I've boiled down cloud computing from an IT perspective to "Pay someone else to deal with your infrastructure problems."
The trouble for IT is that we make a good share of our living by providing ongoing maintenance-if the oft-quoted statistic that 80 percent of the IT budget is spent keeping existing infrastructure working is true, as I suspect it is. This may be why Peter Christy of Internet Research Group said at the recent N-Square dinner gathering in Palo Alto, Calif., words to the effect that IT staffers aren't the best people to talk to about making the move to cloud computing because they mostly offer fear, uncertainty, doubt and reasons to say no to cloud computing options.
But IT managers don't live in a vacuum. There is this pesky problem of the business bottom line. I wrote two years ago that server virtualization was becoming the norm for business efficiency. As "virtual first" server deployment policies spread-enabled by the latest generation of Intel and AMD processors that make dense virtual server deployments desirable-efficient management of virtual and physical resources is rising high above the cost savings that were credited to IT when virtualization was in its infancy.
What I didn't suspect when I was writing in 2008, but see more likely today, is that efficient management of physical and virtual resources in isolated, private data centers would face such stiff competition from cloud providers. Back then I wrote that "[s]erver virtualization brings industrial production [methods] to the data center. One key to industrial production is placing a premium on creating products that are cost-effective in mass production." And there is nothing like a high-volume, multitenant physical data center for hacking down operational costs. In the case of server virtualization and the application workloads running on those servers, concentrating the creation and care of business-class workloads seems to be a great way to reduce business costs. Isn't the classic line, "What's your core business? Unless it's building and running servers, outsource and get back to your business."
Today, we're somewhere in the "middle period" between isolated data centers and cloud infrastructure. There is a dizzying array of workloads that still exceed either the regulatory, performance or access capabilities of cloud offerings today. But make no mistake: We're in the middle, between things ended and things begun. IT infrastructure is very much traveling in territory where there is no resting place. As workloads migrate to the most cost-effective compute environment, there will be very little room for naysayers of any technical or experience level.
Delaying Tactics That Work
Every day my e-mail box is stuffed full of point solutions for managing both physical and virtual compute, storage, network and security. The still fractured landscape of management tools are an impediment to the full development of the cloud in both isolated, private data centers and public providers. The mishmash of management tools means it's currently hard for IT managers to efficiently move workloads to a fully realized, private virtual infrastructure. This type of move is one of the precursors to getting workloads ready to move to the cloud. But don't count on this situation lasting for long. Consolidation will happen. The business pressure is enough to drive forward the technical integration necessary to bring order to the management chaos.
Since it's better to stay ahead of an innovation wave than to be overwhelmed by it, I advise IT managers to truly become business enablers. Be the trusted adviser who looks for opportunities to optimize current business operations for virtualization and cloud enablement. It's OK to identify stumbling blocks ("What if there's a network outage? What if the cloud provider gets hacked?") and work for a resolution. It's not OK to be commodore of the No Way Navy.
To be clear, not every workload will travel at the same speed through this middle period. Some applications, such as e-mail, are already fully hosted. Many others are well on their way to being hosted. There will be some stubborn workloads, however, that will remain unsuited for movement to the cloud for some time. Lightning-fast trading operations are often considered the flagship of the No Way Navy. Just keep in mind that if your competitor successfully lowers operating costs by dumping their infrastructure problem on a cloud provider, the No Way Navy will surely sail off into an inglorious sunset.