Most companies I deal with are seriously considering a cloud strategy. When you evaluate the benefits of a platform as a service, it makes sense to do that. But some of the folks I talk to are those who buy, build, configure and administer systems like file servers, mail servers, and database servers. They often ask - "If business people buy the capacity with a PO, and if architects design the system, and if developers write the code, what do I do?" It's a fair question.

First, I'm not aware of a cloud vendor, including Microsoft, that expects a medium to large company to replace it's entire infrastructure with the cloud. The latency for large file transfers, printing, government privacy requirements, all kinds of factors prevent that. So the first answer to that question is that your job isn't going away. For the foreseeable future, there will be a physical IT infrastructure in place that will still need care and feeding.

The second answer is that as you educate yourself on each new technology, including cloud, you should help your company understand where it does and does not fit. It's not a one-size-fits-all. There are places where you can switch an application to the cloud, places where you need to keep the application local, and still others where the cloud can be your “burst” strategy or part of your High-Availability and Disaster Recovery plan.

You can also have the cloud do things you don’t want to do. In some cases you have “shadow IT” departments that need or want to create their own small applications, which are not part of the core IT process at your organization. You could help them set up an account, and use simple programs like LightSwitch to write their own applications which are paid for by that department, and maintained by Microsoft, leaving you free to fight the more important battles for your larger applications.

On that note, some shops consider the cloud to be simply hosting a Virtual Machine somewhere else, but this isn’t really “cloud”, in my mind. It’s just “somebody else’s systems”, and just moves the problem around. In fact, that strategy can indeed lead to erosion in an IT Infrastructure. But a platform as a service play (see my post of “Which Cloud are you talking about”) allows you to focus on balancing your use of the cloud as a strategic resource.

The point is that we need to start thinking more strategically about our role in the organization. We can’t just provide a single level of support for architectures that to the business are invisible. I invite you to learn what options you have, and then help your organization apply them intelligently. Don’t dismiss the cloud because it doesn’t have feature X or Y, or has a latency, or isn’t HIPPA or SorBox compliant. Look for places where it fits, and go from there.

On that topic, I’m reading a really good book right now called ”Applied Architecture Platforms on the Microsoft Platform”. It’s exactly what the title says – a rundown of the various Microsoft platforms like SQL Server, Exchange and Windows – and Azure – and covers where each of these can be used. I really like it – you should definitely check it out. Even working at Microsoft I’m not always sure where to use each platform – this book helps me understand where to do that. I’d love to see an open-source version, Oracle and others with this same information. It’s invaluable for the Architect.