Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Uptime: Eeyore forever, or can cloud computing help the facilities-IT gap?

I dropped by the Uptime Institute Symposium in Santa Clara last week. It was a chance to step outside of my IT-focused world for a moment and hear the discussions from the other side of the fence: the facilities folks. And, I have to say, the view was a bit different.

In general, I think it's safe to say that facilities is not yet comfortable with where the cloud computing conversation is taking them.

Cloud computing is a part of the conversation on both sides of the fence, but people are looking at the cloud from very different angles. IT, despite having its own running battle with business users about cloud, can at least see cloud as an opportunity. Facilities in many cases views it as a direct, job-endangering threat. And, while there were hints at alignment, there are definitely some ruffled feathers.

A history of disconnects: IT & facilities

But this shouldn't be a surprise. A few years back, before Cassatt Corp. was acquired by CA Technologies, those of us at Cassatt spent quite a bit of time and effort understanding the facilities world and working to connect what the IT guys were doing with what was going on in the facilities realm. At that point, cloud computing was barely even called that. But the beginnings were there. The prototype ideas that would become cloud computing were starting to find their way into the IT and data center efficiency conversations in some of the more forward-looking companies. (If you want some historical snapshots, check out the work of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in this area, plus the early entries from this blog and those by Ken Oestreich, now cloud marketing guy at EMC).

One of the biggest issues we ran into again and again was a disconnect between IT and facilities. And, after a few days at the most recent Uptime Institute event, I think it’s safe to say that the rift is still there.

IT (at the urging of the business) is leading the cloud charge

To show how the two groups are still pretty far apart, I’ll highlight a couple of the presentations I heard at the event. Several 451 Group analysts had presentations throughout the week, providing the IT perspective. One was William Fellows’ rapid-fire survey of where things are with cloud today. His premise was that cloud is moving from the playground to production in both public and private cloud incarnations.

Fellows pointed out that providing cloud-enabling technologies for service providers was one of the hottest spaces at the moment – he’s tracking a list of some 80 vendors at this point. Demand is moving cloud from an “ad hoc developer activity to become a first-class citizen.” Production business applications are “creeping up in public cloud” because of the ability to flexibly scale.

Enterprise IT, said Fellows, “wants to unlock their inner service-provider selves. They want to use cloud as just another node in the system.” In other words, the IT guys are starting to make leaps forward in how they are sourcing IT service, and even in how they are thinking about the IT role.

But from the other Uptime sessions and discussions, these forwarding-looking glimpses seemed to be the exception, rather than the rule.

Facilities is grappling with cloud’s implications and feeling uneasy

Contrast this with the keynote from AOL’s Mike Manos. Mike spent a chunk of his stage time on a self-described rant about how facilities people were feeling left out – “a bit gloomy” even – when it comes to the cloud computing discussion.

Manos compared facilities folks to Eeyore, the mopey character from the Winnie the Pooh children’s books. That prompted a few knowing chuckles in the crowd. But despite a predisposition to getting bummed out when the topic comes up, “you can’t duck your head,” said Manos, when the discussion turns to cloud computing.

He pointed out that the things that a Google keynoter from earlier in the conference had mentioned were not revolutionary, despite all they have accomplished. In fact, “Google is asking us to do the things we’ve been talking about [at Uptime conferences] for the past 10 years.”

The advice from Manos was good – and assertive. Facilities should step aggressively into the conversation about cloud computing. Don’t be worried that cloud might suddenly mean that data centers are suddenly going to disappear and you might lose your job. It won’t mean that, and especially not if you play your cards right. Instead of dreading cloud, figure out how to be part of (or even lead) the business decisions.

“No matter what, you’re going to have a hybrid model” in which data centers from external cloud providers will provide some of your IT service, and your own data centers will provide some as well. And, once you’re in that situation, “you’re going to have to manage it,” Manos said.

Now, there is a big list of things the facilities guys will need to get going on before they can take this head-on. Manos listed things as basic as “knowing what you have” in your data center and what it’s doing, as well as things that aren’t normally taken into account, including “soft costs you hardly ever capture.”

The cloud computing challenge for facilities

The ironic thing in all this is that the big cloud providers are given lots of kudos for their IT operations and their ability to enable IT service to aggressively support their business. One of the reasons that Google, Amazon, and others have gotten good at IT service delivery is, in fact, that they are good at the facilities side of things, too. Their facilities teams are integral to their success. So, folks, it’s possible.

Manos left his audience with a challenge – a challenge to jump into the cloud computing conversation with both feet. It means an investment to get applications ready for what happens when infrastructure fails (which it does) and to understand the operational impact of moving to the cloud (which is too often overlooked). It means an acknowledgement that a move to the cloud means a clearer understanding between how applications are architected and how data center facilities are run. Or at least an understanding of what you need to know when computing begins to happen both inside and outside your physical premises.

So, maybe cloud can actually help bridge the IT world and the facilities world. To some of us who have watched these two worlds dance around each other for a while, it’s been a long time coming. And, for sure, it’s not here yet. But Manos and others, in conjunction with the pressures facilities people are feeling from their business discussions about cloud comptuing, might just be providing the nudge they need.

Or, at the very least, a great nickname.

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