Thursday, December 16, 2010

Survey points to the rise of 'cloud thinking'

In any developing market, doing a survey is always a bit of a roll of the dice. Sometimes the results can be pretty different from what you expected to find.

I know a surprise like that sounds unlikely in the realm of cloud computing, a topic that, if anything, feels over-scrutinized. However, when the results came back from the Management Insight survey (that CA Technologies sponsored and announced today), there were a few things that took me and others looking at the data by surprise.

Opinions of IT executives and IT staffs on cloud don’t differ by too much. We surveyed both decision makers and implementers, thinking that we’d find some interesting discrepancies. We didn’t. They all pretty much thought cloud could help them on costs, for example. And regardless of both groups’ first impressions, I’m betting cost isn’t their eventual biggest benefit. Instead, I’d bet that it’s agility – the reduced time to having IT make a real difference in your business – that will probably win out in the end.

IT staff are of two minds about cloud. One noticeable contradiction in the survey was that the IT staff was very leery about cloud because they see its potential to take away their jobs. At the same time, one of the most popular reasons to support a cloud initiative was because it familiarized them with the latest and greatest in technology and IT approaches. It seems to me that how each IT person deals with these simultaneous pros and cons will decide a lot about the type of role they will have going forward. Finding ways to learn about and embrace change can’t be a bad thing for your resume.

Virtualization certainly has had an impact on freeing people to think positively about cloud computing. I wrote about this in one of my early blogs about internal clouds back at the beginning of 2009 – hypervisors helped IT folks break the connection between a particular piece of hardware and an application. Once you do that, you’re free to consider a lot of “what ifs.”

This new survey points out a definite connection between how far people have gotten with their virtualization work and their support for cloud computing. The findings say that virtualization helps lead to what we’re calling “cloud thinking.” In fact, the people most involved in virtualization are also the ones most likely to be supportive of cloud initiatives. That all makes sense to me. (Just don’t think that just because you’ve virtualized some servers, you’ve done everything you need to in order to get the benefits of cloud computing.)

The survey shows people expect a gradual move from physical infrastructure to virtual systems, private cloud, and public cloud – not a mad rush. Respondents did admit to quite a bit of cloud usage – more than many other surveys I’ve seen. That leads you to think that cloud is starting to come of age in large enterprises (to steal a phrase from today’s press release). But it’s not happening all at once, and there’s a combination of simple virtualization and a use of more sophisticated cloud-based architectures going on. That’s going to lead to mixed environments for quite some time to come, and a need to manage and secure those diverse environments, I’m betting.

There are open questions about the ultimate cost impact of both public and private clouds. One set of results listed cost as a driver and an inhibitor for public clouds, and as a driver and an inhibitor for private ones, too. Obviously, there’s quite a bit of theory that has yet to be put into practice. I bet that’s what a lot of the action in 2011 will be all about: figuring it out.

And who can ignore politics? Finally, in looking at the internal organizational landscape of allies and stonewallers, the survey reported what I’ve been hearing anecdotally from customers and our folks who work with them: there are a lot of political hurdles to get over to deliver a cloud computing project (let alone a success). The survey really didn’t provide a clear, step-by-step path to success (not that I expected it would). I think the plan of starting small, focusing on a specific outcome, and being able to measure results is never a bad approach. And maybe those rogue cloud projects we hear about aren’t such a bad way to start after all. (You didn’t hear that from me, mind you.)

Take a look for yourself

Those were some of the angles I thought were especially interesting, and, yes, even a bit surprising in the survey. In addition to perusing the actual paper that Management Insight wrote (registration required) about the findings, I’d also suggest taking a look at the slide show highlighting a few of the more interesting results graphically. You can take a look at those slides here.

I’m thinking we’ll run the survey again in the middle of next year (at least, that seems like about the right timing to me). Two things will be interesting to see. First, what will the “cloud thinking” that we’re talking about here have enabled? The business models that cloud computing makes possible are new, pretty dynamic, and disruptive. Companies that didn’t exist yesterday could be challenging big incumbents tomorrow with some smart application of just enough technology. And maybe with no internal IT whatsoever.

Second, it will be intriguing to see what assumptions that seem so logical now will turn out to be – surprisingly – wrong. But, hey, that’s why we ask these questions, right?

This blog is cross-posted on The CA Cloud Storm Chasers site.

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