Friday, August 13, 2010

CA, 4Base, and why consulting is a good idea, even in the era of self-service

Sure, self-service is one of the key attributes expected from cloud services. But contrary to what you may hear from vendors, it’s not always possible to do everything you need to do to using only something that comes in a box (or even if it’s provisioned as a service, as is increasingly the case). Getting virtualization broadly adopted in your organization or a cloud-style infrastructure running well in your shop is more complicated than that.

David Linthicum noted this in his InfoWorld column this week. “While private clouds seem like mounds of virtualized servers to many in IT,” he writes, “true private clouds are architecturally and operationally complex, and they require that the people behind the design and cloud creation know what they are doing. Unfortunately, few do these days.”

As strongly as folks want to believe that everything can be solved with a mouse click, the rise of boutique consulting firms focused on cloud and virtualization tells you that there’s a need here. And it’s something that CA Technologies decided to address head-on.

CA Technologies acquired 4Base Technology to fill customers’ real-world virtualization and cloud experience gap

As you might have seen from yesterday’s news, CA Technologies is pulling in a new type of expertise to offer customers help with the real-world issues that both virtualization and cloud computing create. We’ve acquired 4Base Technology, a small, focused consulting firm with people on the ground who know how these technologies and related operation models can and should work. They have seen the intricacies that IT departments are faced with daily when trying to go from a fluffy, conceptual future to a working implementation.

The folks at 4Base know the relevant technology from Cisco, Citrix, EMC, Microsoft, NetApp, and, especially, VMware. In fact, their partnership with VMware will be a great way for CA Technologies to expand our existing relationship with the market share leader in virtualization. It doesn’t hurt that 4Base is headquartered in Sunnyvale, not so very far from VMware’s sunny Palo Alto HQ (well, normally sunny. This summer, not so much).

Side-by-side collaboration with customers on virtualization & cloud

In rolling out virtualization and cloud computing for large enterprises, you really have to work side-by-side with your customers. I’ve seen this during my time here at CA Technologies and in my previous years at Cassatt. Leaving customers to figure everything out on their own is not a path to success.

In fact, I’ve heard many stories about customers struggling with what Andi Mann (from the CA Technologies virtualization management group) calls “virtual stall” as they proceed with their virtualization roll-outs. Customers start down the path, but for a variety of reasons that Andi describes, get stuck. One large customer we talked to in the Cassatt days knew they wanted to virtualize more of their thousands and thousands of servers, but really didn’t have the staff or understanding about what process to follow to get the benefits they were looking for. Or even identify what servers to virtualize next. So nothing moved. That’s not a good return on anyone’s investment.

I think this acquisition is a nice start toward helping customers address these issues (so does Andi Mann, by the way, according to his blog about 4Base). It shows that CA Technologies understands that the customer’s success isn’t something that should be left up to chance or just a best effort. It should be approached methodically using an approach that’s steeped in experience.

The 4Base Technology acquisition also means CA Technologies can start working with customers much earlier in their planning process – not just at the point in time when they need help installing and deploying software. That’s a shift for CA Technologies.

In fact, 4Base’s practices, service offerings, and skills will be a solid foundation to a team being formed in the services organization called the CA Global Virtualization and Cloud Consulting Team. The 4Base team has offerings ranging from virtualization operational readiness assessments, to virtualization capability assessment & strategy, to cloud-based advisory services. Watch for more interesting details on this group as it matures.

These types of offerings give CA Technologies the opportunity to provide the benefit of our experiences in planning out a customer’s cloud approach, and the opportunity to help see this through to its roll-out. Same with virtualization. Customers can make use of as little or as much of these capabilities as they need. But just having these offerings will help us be more proactive, rather than reactive – which I’m betting should please our customers.

But isn’t consulting doomed by the self-service aspects of cloud computing?

Beefing up on consulting capabilities, however, begs the question I alluded to at the start of this post: if all this cloud and virtualization stuff is supposed to be completely handled by one of the things that’s in the standard definition of cloud computing (“self-service” qualifies in most definitions these days), why is this capability even needed?

Along those same lines, I saw a recent article at by Thomas Wailgum (@twailgum on Twitter) that discussed The Coming Upheaval in Tech Services, a report by Forrester analysts John McCarthy and Pascal Matzke, that was skeptical that the big consulting firms would be able to pull down successful services business in the cloud space in the short term.

My conversation on Twitter about that article with Laurie McLaughlin at CIO Magazine and others centered on the complexity issue: “Here's the quandary,” she tweeted, “who wants to [market] cloud as so complex that you should pay consultants to help?”

While it’s true that no one’s looking for complexity, we know that complexity is with us in current, more traditional IT environments. As we get early cloud computing implementations off the ground I don’t think we have much choice: complexity will follow IT to the cloud (and back) as well. Especially if you want to connect them in any way to existing environments. This article in IT World says, in fact, that the best way to build a career in cloud computing is to help people actually implement it.

Experience matters

It may be true that the larger consulting firms will have trouble building a business on cloud implementation consulting in the short term, but this is likely because they (so far) lack the best-practices and actual experiences that lead you to trust someone with a strategic project like a virtualization roll-out or cloud computing project.

“At the core of this problem,” said Linthicum in InfoWorld, “is the fact that we're hype-rich and architect-poor. IT pros who understand the core concepts behind SOA, private cloud architecture, governance, and security -- and the enabling technology they require -- are few and far between, and they clearly are not walking the halls of rank-and-file enterprises and government agencies.”

So, instead, I’m betting IT will want to hire the ones who have done it before. Says Linthicum: “What can you do to get ready? The most common advice is to hire people who know what they're doing and have the experience required to get it right the first time.”

And those folks are mostly – at this point, anyway – with small firms like 4Base. Keep tabs on what CA Technologies is planning to do from here. I’m hoping for a lot of real-world success as the company builds on what 4Base has been able to learn so far, expands their reach, and accelerates from there.

This article is cross-posted at the CA Cloud Storm Chasers blog.

1 comment:

Glenn Friesen said...

I think Laurie McLaughlin said it best, "who wants to [market] cloud as so complex that you should pay consultants to help?"

Indeed, most things are marketed to be super easy or quick to learn -- but really aren't (google analytics, google adwords for instance). Power users (ie consultants) are the way to go. You said it -- experience matters!