Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Internal or external clouds? Both, say end users (or "Cloud computing data you won't hear about in Vegas")

Some people have all the luck. Some get to spend the better part of a week in the gilded gaming halls of Vegas, staving off hundred-degree heat with extreme air conditioning, waving their slot machine credit vouchers in one hand and their free drinks in the other, while supposedly learning a thing or two about cloud computing.

Ah, Vegas trade shows. The goal is to survive without leaving too much of your hard-earned cash in any of the fancy, flashing gizmos, nor doing any other things that can't be properly accounted for on a company expense report.

The lucky ones, by my estimation, are those of us who get to stay home, though. OK, that's probably just sour grapes on my part. But even from afar, watching the Interop, Enterprise Computing Summit, and Forrester IT Forum goings-on via Twitter, streaming keynotes, etc., I have a couple items I thought I'd add to the discussion: here is some new, real data from our 2009 Cassatt Data Center Survey that gives a snapshot about what end users are actually thinking and doing about cloud computing.

For those of you just rolling in from a night of Cirque du Soleil and all-night roulette, here's a quick summary:

· Organizations are most likely pursuing both internal AND external clouds, rather than just one or the other.
· Oh, and yes, people's definitions of the cloud are still all over the map.
· Many people haven't looked into cloud computing yet, but there are quite a few working on it right now. (No, really? Maybe that's one reason that everyone's converging on Vegas this week.)
· "I'm not sure" and "don’t know yet" were really popular answers to a lot of questions. At the rate things are changing, though, I don't expect that to be the case for very long.
· The external cloud computing hurdles we've all been hearing about remain: security, service levels, and compliance, in that order, for starters.
· Despite some of the industry commentary about the importance of time-to-market, cost is the key driver for moving to an external cloud.
· Cost is also the top driver for people to pursue an internal cloud, though agility and on-demand elasticity follow close behind.
· Energy efficiency wasn't the primary driver behind any of these moves.

If you have a few minutes before returning to the blackjack tables, here's a bit more discussion on each of these points:

Everyone (still) has more than one basic definition of cloud computing

To start, here's what our people said cloud computing is. The funny thing (sort of) is that we let people select more than one answer, or even write in one of their own. The average number of answers given was 2.1. So either we did a bad job of giving them possible answers (which, given how fast descriptions are shifting, is certainly worth entertaining) or even the people who know what cloud computing is think it can be a bunch of different things. The responses:

- Internet-based services (49.1%)
- A data center in the cloud (42.9%)
- SaaS (39.4%)
- A virtualized infrastructure (36.6%)
- Don’t know or something else (20.6%)
- Virtual server hosting (18.1%)

How end users are using (and plan to use) cloud computing: SaaS and IaaS

We asked how (or if) their business was using cloud computing today -- and what they were using clouds for. The main answers were software-as-a-service (SaaS) (16.1%), compute or storage infrastructure (15.4%), e-mail/messaging/collaboration (12.6%), and websites/microsites (12.3%).

However, the two biggest responses show things are still revving up: 20.4% said they are "evaluating" cloud computing. 35.8% haven’t looked into it yet. And a stubborn (but expected) 11.2% say they will never use cloud computing.

In talking about the future, however, planned use of the cloud, well, puffs up quite a bit. Every option we gave saw an increase between what end users are doing today and what they plan to do in the cloud in the future. Infrastructure for compute or storage (which we'd call IaaS) jumps to 26.6% and SaaS also leaps to 24.8% when we asked about future plans. Delivering rich Internet applications appeared near the top, too, with 16.3%.

But, as a result of either the economy’s pressure or just uncertainty about what cloud computing is or can do, 40.4% said they don’t know what they will do on this topic. 8.5% specifically said they do plan to use cloud computing, but they don’t know what for. And only 7.1% said they will never use cloud computing.

The dark clouds around cloud computing: a reason to work within your current infrastructure

Much has been written and discussed over the problems that are holding IT back from using cloud computing. So, of course, we asked our respondents about the most significant hurdles that their organization faces with cloud computing. The answers weren't surprising, including the 32.9% that aren't sure what their problems with clouds would be yet. That matches the fact that many haven't started on clouds implementations. However, whether people have started or not, only 3.1% said that there weren't any hurdles. That's healthy realism. The hurdles:

- Security (50.0%)
- Service levels and performance guarantees (39.5%)
- I'm not sure (32.9%)
- Compliance, auditing, & logging (30.1%)
- Platform/architecture lock-in (18.9%)
- Doesn't improve use of existing infrastructure (11.2%)
- Narrow provider offerings (8.4%)
- Something else (5.9%)
- No hurdles (3.1%)

"Lock-in" and "narrow provider offerings" weren't seen as big deals yet, which makes sense. This is a very early market and people who are experimenting are forgiving and also have pretty specific needs they are trying to meet. As things mature for cloud computing and end users start to deploy a broader range of applications in the cloud, I'd expect those issues to become more important. Be warned, though, that maturity could come more quickly than expected, leading to some messy entanglements that will need to be worked out.

The rest of the issues listed above emphasize many of the reasons we at Cassatt have been talking to organizations (especially the large ones with very complex IT systems) about internal cloud computing. The goal we talk about is to use a company's existing IT infrastructure as a cloud of compute resources, dynamically allocated by policy, while maintaining use of the security, compliance, and other systems already in place. The idea is to get the most out of a cloud-style architecture without sacrificing the things a large IT organization are required to have in place.

Users aren't choosing between internal and external clouds -- they want both

In the survey, we also asked for respondents to characterize their organization's approach to internal and external cloud computing. The answers:

- We are investigating internal AND external cloud computing (27.1%)
- We are investigating internal cloud computing only (10.0%)
- We are investigating external cloud computing only (5.4%)
- We are not investigating any type of cloud computing (24.3%)
- I don't know (33.2%)

Again, a big chunk of "don't knows," but a significant number who know what their approach is say they are looking into both internal and external cloud computing. This is important, I think. End users want the best of both worlds. From our experience, the public/private cloud dividing line is likely to blur into a broad hybrid or federated cloud discussion with each organization pretty quickly, but each org will still have to start somewhere specific. The result: both internal and external cloud projects are forging ahead. For more discussion on the state of the internal/external cloud debate and definitions, check out some of my earlier posts (posts on how legit internal clouds actually are, the reasons hybrid clouds will take a while to mature, and the current state of the internal/external cloud debate are all related).

Cost is actually the driver, not agility -- so far

Gartner's Tom Bittman, Cassatt's own Steve Oberlin, and others over the past few months have said that, in fact, cost isn't going to be the big driver in the move to the cloud. Instead, the move is being pushed by a need for agility, for ease in getting started or even making changes, and to be responsive to what the business needs. That may still be the case long-term, and both Tom and Steve provide some compelling numbers and arguments why this is likely to be true. However, it's not true yet, according to our survey.

We asked about the most compelling element offered by external cloud computing for each responder's organization, and reducing costs ended up on top:

- Reductions in operating costs (27.1%)
- Overall improvement in ability to respond to business demands (agility) (18.2%)
- Other (16.1%)
- Benefits of a large data center without owning capital (13.2%)
- Immediate response to capacity changes (elasticity) (11.8%)
- Easy/cheap to get started (6.8%)
- Improved energy efficiency (4.3%)
- Transparent costs/metered billing (2.5%)

Same was true when we asked what elements would compel an organization to pursue internal cloud computing. Cost was on top. However, the ability to respond to the business and to have the infrastructure respond to dynamic changes (a key attribute of what Tom and Gartner call a "real-time infrastructure"), were also pretty highly ranked:

- Reductions in current operating costs (43.8%)
- Overall improvement in ability to respond to business demands (agility) (37.5%)
- Immediate response to capacity changes (elasticity) (35.0%)
- I don't know (27.6%)
- Improved energy efficiency (25.4%)
- Use of existing capital to improve IT operations (21.2%)
- Benefits of external cloud services without needing to go outside our organization/processes (16.3%)
- Transparent costs/metered billing (15.2%)
- It's not compelling to my organization (9.5%)
- Other (1.4%)

Internal clouds, it is interesting to note, were not compelling to less than 10% of the respondents.

As with any survey (and as I've mentioned in posting some of the other survey results over the past few weeks on virtualization and data center efficiency), this one is subject to the biases of our questions and of our pool of respondents, in this case people who have been following Cassatt's early moves in this market.

Nevertheless, it's interesting to see that, at least for the group of forward-looking IT folks we surveyed, internal clouds are on the radar, right alongside external clouds.

As they say in Vegas, maybe it's time to double down.

Background note on our survey: For this survey, which Cassatt did earlier this year, we had over 300 on-line respondents from our database, mainly directors, managers, and others directly involved with the IT infrastructure and data center operations from a variety of organizations, large and small. 45% were from entities employing more than 5,000 people, and 18.5% were from organizations larger than 50,000 people. A bit over half worked for organizations with between 1 and 5 data centers; 13.9% said they have more than 20. The respondents themselves mainly said (64.7% of them, anyway) that they had 1 to 5 data centers in their direct sphere of influence. This was our second annual Cassatt Data Center Survey. Last year's survey focused on energy efficiency topics; this year covered a broader variety of topics, including cloud computing, IT operations and data center efficiency, and we also revisited energy efficiency (more on that in a future post). If you'd like a copy of the raw survey results, e-mail me at

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