Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The first 200 servers are the easy part: private cloud advice and why IT won’t lose jobs to the cloud

The recent webcast that featured Bert Armijo of CA Technologies and James Staten of Forrester Research offered some glimpses into the state of private clouds in large enterprises at the moment. I heard both pragmatism and some good, old-fashioned optimism -- even when the topic turned to the impact of cloud computing on IT jobs.

Here are some highlights worth passing on, including a few juicy quotes (always fun):

Cloud has executive fans, and cloud decisions are being made at a relatively high level. In the live polling we did during the webcast, we asked who was likely to be the biggest proponent of cloud computing in attendees’ organizations. 53% said it was their CIO or senior IT leadership. 23% said it was the business executives. Forrester’s James Staten interpreted this to mean that business folks are demanding answers, often leaning toward the cloud, and the senior IT team is working quickly to bring solutions to the table, often including the cloud as a key piece. I suppose you could add: “whether they wanted to or not.”

Forrester’s Staten gave a run-down of why many organizations aren’t ready for an internal cloud – but gave lots of tips for changing that. If you’ve read James’ paper on the topic of private cloud readiness (reg required), you’ve heard a lot of these suggestions. There were quite a few new tidbits, however:

· On creating a private cloud: “It’s not as easy as setting up a VMware environment and thinking you’re done.” Even if this had been anyone’s belief at one point, I think the industry has matured enough (as have cloud computing definitions) for it not to be controversial any more. Virtualization is a good step on the way, but isn’t the whole enchilada.

· “Sharing is not something that organizations are good at.” James is right on here. I think we all learned this on the playground early in life, but it’s still true in IT. IT’s silos aren’t conducive to sharing things. James went farther, actually, and said, “you’re not ready for private cloud if you have separate virtual resource pools for marketing…and HR…and development.” Bottom line: the silos have got to go.

· So what advice did James give for IT organizations to help speed their move to private clouds? One thing they can do is “create a new desired state with separate resources, that way you can start learning from that [cloud environment].” Find a way to deliver a private cloud quickly (I can think of at least one).

· James also noted that “a private cloud doesn’t have to be something you build.” You can use a hosted “virtual private cloud” from a service provider like Layered Tech. Bert Armijo, the CA Technologies expert on the webcast, agreed. “Even large customers start with resources in hosting provider data centers.” Enterprises with CA 3Tera AppLogic running at their service provider and internally can then move applications to whichever location makes the most sense at a given point in time, said Armijo.

· What about “cloud-in-a-box” solutions? James was asked for his take. “Cloud-in-a-box is something you should learn from, not take apart,” he said. “The degree of completeness varies dramatically. And the way in which it suits your needs will vary dramatically as well.”

The biggest cloud skeptics were cited as – no surprise – the security and compliance groups within IT, according to the polling. This continues to be a common theme, but shouldn’t be taken as a reason to toss the whole idea of cloud computing out, emphasized Staten. “Everyone loves to hold up the security flag and stop things from happening in the organization.” But don’t let them. It’s too easy to use it as an excuse for not doing something that could be very useful to your organization.

Armijo also listed several tips for finding successful starting points in the move to creating a private cloud. It was all about pragmatic first steps, in Bert’s view. “The first 200 servers are the easy part,” said Armijo. “Because you can get a 50-server cloud up doesn’t mean you have conquered cloud.” His suggestions:

- Start where value outweighs the perceived risk of cloud computing for your organization (and it will indeed be different for each organization)
- Find places where you will have quick, repeated application or stack usage
- If you’re more on the bleeding edge, set up IT as an internal service provider to the various parts of the business. It’s more challenging, for sure, but there are (large) companies doing this today, and it will make profound improvements to IT’s service delivery.

Will cloud computing eliminate jobs? A bit of Armijo’s optimism was in evidence here: he said, in a word, no. “Every time we hit an efficiency wall, we never lose jobs,” he said. “We may reshuffle them. That will be true for clouds as well.” He believed more strategic roles will grow out of any changes that come as a result of the impact of cloud on IT.

“IT people are the most creative people on the face of the planet,” said Armijo. “Most of us got into IT because we like solving problems. That’s what cloud’s going to do – it’s going to let our creative juices flow.”

If you’re interested in listening to the whole webcast, which was moderated by Jim Malone, editorial director at IDG, you can sign up here for an on-demand, encore performance.

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