Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Webcast polls: Fast progress on internal clouds, but org barriers remain

Today's free advice: you should never miss out on the opportunity to ask questions of end users. Surprise, surprise, they tell you interesting things. And, yes, even surprise you now and again. We had a great opportunity to ask some cloud computing questions last week, and found what looks like an interesting acceleration in the adoption -- or at least consideration -- of internal clouds.

As you've probably seen, Cassatt does an occasional webcast on relevant data center efficiency topics and we like to use those as opportunities to take the market's temperature (even if we are taking the temperature of only a small, unscientific sample). Back in November, we asked attendees of the webcast Cassatt did with James Staten of Forrester (covering the basics of internal clouds) some very, well, basic questions about what they were doing with cloud computing. The results: enterprises weren't "cloudy" -- yet. 70% said they had not yet started using cloud computing (internal or external).

Last Thursday we had another webcast, and again we used it as an opportunity to ask IT people what they actually are doing with internal clouds today. As expected, end users have only just started down this path and they are being conservative about the types of applications they say they will put into an internal cloud at this point. But you'd be surprised how much tire-kicking is actually going on.

This is a bit of a change from what we heard from folks back in the November Forrester webcast. In last week's webcast we were a little more specific in our line of questioning, focusing our questions on internal clouds, but the answers definitely felt like people are farther along.

Some highlights:

The webcast itself: tips on how to create an internal cloud from data center resources you already have. If you didn't read about it in my post prior to the event, we had Craig Vosburgh, our chief engineer and frequent contributor to this blog, review what an internal cloud was and the prerequisites your IT operations team must be ready for (or at least agree upon) before you even start down the path of creating a private cloud. He previewed some of what he said in the webcast in a posting here a few months back ("Is your organization ready for an internal cloud?"). The second part of the webcast featured Steve Oberlin, Cassatt chief scientist and blogger in his own right, covering 7 steps he suggests following (based on direct Cassatt customer experiences) to actually get an internal cloud implementation going.

On to the webcast polling question results:

IT is just beginning to investigate internal cloud computing, but there's significant progress. The biggest chunk of respondents by far (37%) were those who were just starting to figure out what this internal cloud thing might actually be. Interestingly, 17% had some basic plans in place for a private cloud architecture and were beginning to look into business cases. 7% had started to create an internal cloud and 10% said they were already using an internal cloud. Those latter two numbers surprised me, actually. That's a good number of people doing serious due diligence or moving forward fairly aggressively.

One word about the attendee demographics before I continue: people paying attention to or attending a Cassatt webcast are going to be more likely than your average bear to be early adopters. Our customers and best prospects are generally large organizations with very complex IT environments -- and IT is critical to the survival of their business. And, I'm sure that we got a biased sampling because of the title of our webcast ("How to Create an Internal Cloud from Data Center Resources You Already Have"), but it's still hard to refute the forward progress. Another interesting thing to note: we had more registrations and more attendees for this webcast than the one featuring Forrester back in November. I think that's another indication of the burgeoning interest level in the topic (and certainly not a ding at Forrester or their market standing -- James Staten did a bang-up job on the November one).

Now, if it makes the cloud computing naysayers feel any better, we did get 10% of the respondents to the first polling question saying they had no plans to create an internal cloud. And, there was another 20% who didn't know what an internal cloud was. We were actually glad to have that last group at the event; hopefully they had a good feel for some basic terminology by the end of the hour.

IT organizational barriers are the most daunting roadblocks for internal clouds. At the end of Craig's section of the webcast, he recapped all the prerequisites that he mentioned and then turned around and asked the audience what they thought their organization's biggest hurdles were from the list he provided. Only one of the technical issues he mentioned even got votes. Instead, 45% of the people said their organization's "willingness to make changes" was the biggest problem. A few (17%) also mentioned problems with the willingness to decouple applications and services from their underlying compute infrastructure -- an issue that people moving to virtualization would be having as well. 5% weren't comfortable with the shifts in IT roles that internal clouds would cause.

So, despite the 17% that said they had the prerequisites that Craig mentioned well in hand, this seems to be The Big Problem: how we've always done things. Getting a whole bunch of very valuable benefits still has to overcome some pretty strong organizational and political inertia.

IT isn't sure what its servers are doing. One of the 7 steps Steve mentioned was to figure out what you already have before trying to create an internal cloud out of it. Sounds logical. However, by the look of things from our recent survey work and in this webcast poll, this is a gaping hole. Only 9% said they had a minute-by-minute profile of what their servers were doing. Instead, they either only had a general idea (41%), they knew what their servers were originally set up to do but weren't sure that was still the case (24%), or they didn't have a really good handle on what their servers were doing at all (18%). Pretty disturbing, and as Steve mentioned on the webcast, it's important to get this information in hand before you can set up a compute cloud to handle your needs. (We found this problem so prevalent with our customers that Cassatt actually created a service offering to help.)

Test and development apps are the first to be considered for an internal cloud. In the final polling question (suggested from a question I posed on Twitter), we asked "What application (or type of application) was being considered to move to an internal cloud first?" And, despite the data nightmare that would ensue, we decided to let the answer be free-form. After sifting through and trying to categorize the answers, we came up with roughly 3 buckets of responses. People were interested in trying out an internal cloud approach first with:

· Development/test or non-mission-critical apps
· Web servers, often with elastic demand
· New, or even just simple, apps

While a few people also said back-up or DR applications (you can read about one approach to DR using an internal cloud in a previous post) and some pointed to specific apps like electronic health records, most were looking to try something with minimal risk. A very sensible approach, actually. It matches the advice Steve gave everyone, to be honest (step #3: "Start small").

For those who missed the webcast, we've posted the slides on our site (a quick registration is required). Helpful hint when you get the deck: check out the very last slide. It's a great summary of the whole thing, subtly entitled "The 1 Slide You Need to Remember about Creating Internal Clouds." The event recording will also be posted shortly (to make sure you are notified when it is, drop us an e-mail at info@cassatt.com).

In the meantime, let us know both what you thought was useful (or not) about the webcast content, and also what topic we should cover in the follow-on webcast that we've already started planning. Hybrid clouds, anyone?

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