Cloud Source Blog
In This HP Cloud Source Blog, HP Expert, Christian Verstraete will examine cloud computing challenges, discuss practical approaches to cloud computing and suggest realistic solutions.

Do experienced IT people need to disappear before Public Cloud grows

IT staff.jpgLast week, I participated in a discussion on LinkedIN titled “Public Cloud will grow when experienced IT folks die”. The discussion was triggered by an article with the same title written by Jack Clark in The Register. Having spent more than 30 years in the IT industry, I really feel happy with this request for me to disappear. And I believe many of the respondents in the discussion actually felt the same.

 

Sure the title of the article is provocative, intended to receive a large distribution and be discussed. But beyond the title, the article advocates that the “old” IT guys are in love with their server hardware hence resist the move to cloud.

Frankly, this sounds very black and white, and over simplifies the debate dramatically.

 

It reminds me from my start in the industry. I was told the mainframe was dead (we did not call for the dead of mainframe operators though). Well over 30 years later the mainframe is still well and kicking. This to illustrate we should be very cautious to burry existing technologies in favor of new ones. What I have rather seen is that new technologies complement older ones. Despite Pearl and Python, we still use Cobol, despite Linux and Windows, we still rely on AS/400’s and nonstop environments. And I could go on like this.

 

Many start-ups heavily rely on public cloud, particularly in the US, because this allows them to operate without upfront cost and IT personal. And that makes sense for them. Large enterprises have invested heavily in core systems to support their business and are not ready to dump those for new and only partially proven technologies. They have built IT departments to run those systems and are not willing to see that knowledge and experience disappear.

 

If your company spent 100M$ in the implementation of their ERP & financial system, do you believe they are ready to dump that investment and start all over again? Well, most large enterprises had to do that about 15 years ago readying themselves for the millennium bug. There was a compelling need then, not sure there is one today. Public cloud proponents keep pointing to the lower cost, but fail to convince corporations this is actually true for their core systems.

Is this an issue of IT personal? I don’t believe so; this is an issue of sound business management.

 

Virtualization, Standardization, Automation and Self-Provisioning

Larger enterprises own datacenters and have IT staff already. In an effort to reduce the cost of their IT environment they have been looking at improving the efficiency of the datacenters, starting with virtualization. Some called this cloud. It is not, but it’s a step along the way. Infrastructure standardization made virtualization easier, so when servers needed to be refreshed, standard servers or blades have been acquired to provide a standardized server environment optimizing efficiency. Automation of routine tasks has reduced the amount of operators required and limited human error, making environments more robust. We’re getting close to cloud, but still aren’t there.

 

Tablets and smart phones have shown the potential of self-provisioning. And frankly, these technologies are not only used by youngsters. Just look around you and you’ll see all generations using them. They brought with them two things, the concept of self-provisioning and the concept of a service. Many users actually do not realize that the apps they download are nothing else than a small front-end linking to a back-end application in the cloud; sounding pretty much like client-server, only the terminology has changed.

 

Advanced enterprises are implementing such approach within their own IT environment, building private clouds addressing the needs of the business. Others outsourced their IT operations in the hope the service provider would transform the environment while addressing the price points expected and the evolving business needs.

 

The appearance of Shadow-IT.

While the IT department was going through its technology transformation, reducing its operations cost and investing in new technologies, IT aware business people started to use external services to address needs IT was unable to respond too. In many cases this was done without appropriate due diligence or governance and has resulted in potential security threats and compliance issues.

 

As I mentioned in my last couple blog entries a side effect of this approach is enterprise data scattered amongst multiple service providers, often leaving IT with a headache to resolve.

 

Why did IT let that happen?

Within the budgets allocated, IT was unable to transform its environment and respond to the changing demand of the business. It looks like companies that transformed IT in a shared service in the early 2000’s and implemented a “pay-per-use” model in one form or shape, were the most successful in trying to address both fronts concurrently. This is probably due to the fact they saw the business as their customers. But unfortunately only a small amount of enterprises achieved such transformation.

 

Resistance to change exists in organizations because human beings are afraid of uncertainty. Change brings with it challenges (will I still have a job?) and opportunities (what is the next job I could do?). Some people see the glass half empty, others half full. I do not believe this is an age issue. What I know though is that “change is the only constant” in today’s world. But I’m not sure most IT staff have internalized that yet.

 

In my mind, provisioning servers, storage and applications, is a new way to address an old paradigm. Fundamentally it is what most IT departments have always done. That is why private clouds (mainly IaaS based) are popular amongst larger enterprises and particularly their IT departments. But the real paradigm shift is associated with the provisioning of services to end-users. This requires a new thinking, a new mindset. And that is what most IT departments have been unable to embrace.

 

Some CIOs have understood this and focused on transforming their IT department. And most of their teams have actually responded with great enthusiasm as it makes their job more rewarding and interesting. But it still early days and may not be that visible yet in the industry.

 

Is Public Cloud the answer?

The article seems to hint that public cloud is the response. I’m actually not sure at all. For two reasons. Fundamentally we have two types of public clouds, some that provide cheap infrastructure for rent (IaaS), potentially with some software/middleware components included (then called PaaS), others are applications provided as a service (SaaS), with the data issues highlighted in my previous blog entry. The first is an alternative to the datacenter, but somebody needs to install and manage the applications on top of the environment. The second gives you functionality, but is hard to integrate with the back-end systems that are already in place.

 

The second reason I doubt public cloud is the response is related to the lack of transparency in public cloud. Larger enterprises need to be compliant to local laws and require their data to be secure. Public cloud providers are quite evasive when pressed for details on data location and security. It was interesting, when debating that on linkedIN, the answer I received was that “Most cloud vendors are as transparent as they need to be. And if they are not then they will die“. It’s a point of view. And the fact they receive some workloads from enterprises tends to make them feel they get away with it. But when you analyze those workloads, most are in the test&dev space. Enterprises are looking at private or managed clouds for their production workloads and use SaaS services for their non-core ones (typically CRM and some HR functions).

 

Conclusion

Older staff is an easy scapegoat for lack of evolution and innovation. The barriers are elsewhere. I am not trying to pretend I’ve discussed all of them, but given you some hints. Blaming staff and not looking at these does not help IT evolve. So, yes Jack’s article is a nice marketing stunt, but in my mind it is beside the point. I hope CIOs are not taking it into account when reviewing why they are not embracing a service delivery approach faster. Do you disagree with my analysis…. Don’t hesitate to react.

 

Labels: cloud| CloudSource
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About the Author
Christian is responsible for building services focused on advising clients in their move to cloud, particularly from a business process and ...


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