Can the Cloud, ITIL and ITSM Coexist?

ITSM cloudCan cloud computing and the traditional IT service management (ITSM) framework, based on the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), play well together? Is this a legitimate debate or a simple distraction?

ITIL defines best practices for service managers in IT so they, in turn, can have reliable and continuously improving IT services for their solutions. With cloud on the other hand, the infrastructure and services themselves change. Control is now a concern. Integration another huge issue shared by IT managers.

These are just a few of the questions that require answers as both ITIL and cloud appear here to stay and will continue to be an integral part of IT Service Delivery for years to come.

The answer: ITIL must be reframed in the context of cloud, not simply extended. The ITIL framework is applicable to cloud computing but there are elements that need to be approached differently.

Cloud = IT Services

Cloud services are deliver compute, storage, software, applications, etc. via the Internet to customers on a self-serve basis. Customers can subscribe to these services based on their requirements. These services are flexible, elastic, and utility-based, where customers pay for their subscription as they use it.

The components of cloud computing generally refer to compute or I/O and storage being Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS); common tools and middleware used to develop and present applications called Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS); and the applications and software itself Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

There are several flavors of cloud: public, private, and hybrid. Providers of cloud and cloud services generally have their own types of monitoring, reporting and management tools.

At the end of the day, cloud computing services are IT services. It is hard to make the argument that both aren’t compatible without dismissing either the framework of ITIL itself or the service management needed to manage cloud computing services. Not a strong position in either case.

ITSM “as-a-Service”

To develop a consistent view of service management the ITIL framework itself can be applied to cloud computing to identify gaps, if any. Below are outlined areas that must be rethought in the context of the shift away from traditional IT to cloud computing.

Service Strategy

ITIL v3’s first phase of the service lifecycle is Service Strategy. A typical strategy involves IT departments addressing short-term and long-term roadmaps which were developed with a centralized, data-center-centric end-state design. This is a vertical solution. Cloud changes this. A three- to five-year end-state architecture, while fine for only looking at IT, is siloed in its traditional view and does not address changing requirements related to the business. Additionally, the rapid rate of change and innovation in services makes this nearly impossible.

Theoretically IT and business decision makers should use this phase to work with cloud service providers to document business requirements and drive service improvements and value.  The challenge is that many of these services are now supplied by providers who may not participate or allow their services to be customized to meet nonstandard requirements.

Service Design

When it comes to designing services based on cloud computing components, cloud providers and IT leaders can use the elements identified in the Service Strategy session to design a plan for delving those services. IT architecture is a key component of this stage. Building templates and defining service processes in the various elements is another derivable that on the surface marries cloud and ITIL.

However, if the traditional IT approach is used key design elements such as utility-based services not associated with dedicated hardware or software and even geographical considerations will be missed.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are documented and agreed to here. These KPIs lead to service level agreements (SLAs) that define contractual obligations by providers and who service management will track these and have to be applied to cloud providers. SLAs and KPIs associated with cloud providers often are disparate and require separate contractual discussions and design considerations, perhaps even segregated services so trying to take the traditional IT model and apply it to cloud simply will not work.

Service Transition

During this phase the definitions of services are used to create a service catalog. Customer engagement and provisioning of the cloud services should be included as a part of the catalog. Key elements of the ITSM catalog include: change management, release management, and asset management. When implementing in a cloud computing a number of considerations are critical.

Do cloud hosts and providers have the same change standards and change windows as defined by the IT department?  What about all key components of the XaaS stack such as SaaS? PaaS? How are changes requested, approved, managed, or rolled back? How about release management, do the cloud providers respect your business timetables (month-end, reporting, regulatory considerations in your vertical)?

Finally, are all services being migrated to cloud computing required immediately, or will IT departments need to work with cloud providers to develop a plan that transitions to these services with minimal interruption?

Service Operations

When operationalized, the customer accesses the services as defined and published. SLAs should be monitored and tracked to ensure agreed to service levels are in place and the services are performing per the business requirements. Incident management, problem management, event management and request management are essential components that must be implemented in this phase. Changes, additions or deletions of services or parts of services being delivered can be addressed in this phase as well.

When the IT department operationalizes the catalog and simply applies the same catalog to new services provided in the cloud, how will incidents be tracked and reported? Where are the integration points between cloud hosts and providers and the IT department? What elements are reported and which ones are addressed without notification or reporting as a part of the service provided?

Service Improvements

The new values provided are used to design improvements to the services, add new services then operationalize those new series as in the previous phases. Services in cloud are rapidly changing. Price points, specialized infrastructure, delivery, applications are all changing at a rapid rate. An IT organization can fit these changes into ITIL but again, this is not as simple as version control or traditional capacity management. These traditional roles are “baked in” to the services provided. Service improvement in cloud computing must include product roadmaps of vendors and providers then recalibrating roadmaps based on these changes.

This perhaps is the most volatile area and seasoned cloud professional services should be considered.


When cloud services are deployed in the ITIL framework essential and proven tools are available to the IT professional. Develop a strategic vision, put that vision into a design, migrate those services under a set of defined processes, efficiently operate and manage those services and finally, continuously improve those services are all useful and applicable to cloud computing – with many caveats. ITIL and cloud are not a 1:1 direct fit. While ITIL can be a valuable benefit to any IT organization, those that simply try the one-size-fits-all approach when layering in cloud computing will be left disconnected.


  1. Fulvio Civitareale says:

    Hello Phil, I am working on having a good Change Management Process in a Dynamic/Elastic Data Center (private cloud). I am very interested about been in touch with other IT professionals who are working on the same issue and I would be glad whether you can tell me how can I reach those professionals (if you know)

    Thanks, Fulvio

  2. ITIL provides small businesses or emerging IT professionals with a guided framework to help them plan out their cloud adoption. It would be good to see an example of a cross mapping of ITIL to a cloud maturity model as well.

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