You Can’t Automate Chaos: Why Cloud is the Last Thing You Should Do

Ask a cloud question to an IT vendor and then brace yourself for the over-zealous spew of hazy cloud jargon that is as laden with product as it is light on detail.  With vendors being the chief educators of IT executives, it is no wonder businesses are more confused on what cloud is and how they should leverage it than ever before.  It is also no wonder that IT organizations are suddenly and surprisingly overwhelmed with the complexity of  “Cloud” infrastructures when they were expecting a quick, bolt-on implementation.

It self-installs, self-discovers, self-provisions, and self-recovers;
Consumes half the power and half the cooling in half the space with half the waste.
Lean, green and clean;
Public, private or in-between.
Homogenized, integrated, virtualized and automated;
Cloud is the foundation for the future of innovation!

The truth is, Cloud doesn’t really exist.  At least not the way you probably think it does. In this post, I plan to tear down the false ideology of “Cloud” and lay a new foundation of understanding about the evolution of IT; one where leveraging “Cloud” may be the last thing you want to do.

 

Redefining Cloud

To properly understand what “Cloud” is, we must first look at why it exists.   The demand for “Cloud” originates with the business.  The business needs certain capabilities from IT in order to meet customer needs and stay competitive.  With the explosion of online business presence, and greater demand for social marketing and mobile capabilities, the business needs IT to be more responsive and innovative than ever.

So “Cloud” emerged to help IT, right?  Wrong.  Cloud is at war with IT.

 

IT Airlines…”The ONLY Way to Fly

I was on a US Airways flight early this year.  After we were in the air, I found myself in the middle of a 30 minute US Airways MasterCard infomercial presented by the flight attendants.  I did not care for the card or the message.  I found it distracting and a disgusting business practice.  However, we were in mid flight and short of jumping off the plane, there was nothing I could do.  I was a captive audience and they knew it.

Likewise, business units have long been the captive audiences of IT Airlines.  It may have taken weeks or months to provision new applications.  Archaic policies may have forced costs 2x higher than what they otherwise would be.  Poor data protection and availability may have routinely delayed or damaged business innovation.  It doesn’t matter.  Business units couldn’t jump off the plane.  They were captive to IT…until now.

 

“The IT Market”

The very essence of “Cloud” is choice.  Not choice for IT, as you have probably been told, but choice for the business.  “Cloud” providers aren’t out to help IT; they want to replace IT.  Providers create a marketplace for IT services.  They advertise speed, agility, control, and availability—essentially all of the shortcomings of IT.  Features such as applications in minutes, flexible pricing options and self-service are just some of the capabilities providers are using to lure business units away.

 

IT is Screwed

IT, for the most part, still has the business held captive.  Company policies, security and compliance concerns, cloud-to-IT integration complexity and the instability of the IT Services Market (Cloud) are keeping business units on the plane for now.  But it is important to know that this won’t last.  Economic and competitive pressures will encourage more and more organizations to dabble in cloud with environments like test and dev.  Once they have a taste and the market improves, it won’t take long for all of IT to start sliding that direction.   Traditional IT organizations will be left holding the bag.

So, why can’t IT compete?  It has nothing to do with technology, skills or talent.  It is approach.

For IT Service Providers (Cloud Providers), IT is their business.  They are deeply interested in what customers (business units) want. Providers actually spend time and money on customer research and focus groups.  They are driven to provide the most capabilities while making it easy for customers to consume. And, they actually care about and work to develop customer satisfaction.  IT’s approach, in contrast, seems to have been modeled after the DMV.

For IT to survive, and even thrive in this new world, it must use the same approach as providers.  IT must be run like a business.  This means developing flexible pricing and charge-back or show-back models, service catalogues, web portals, internal marketing, and allowing business users to more directly shape how IT provides services.  The IT as a Service (ITaaS) direction is essential for IT organizations if they plan to not be replaced by providers.

 

Private Clouds To The Rescue!

Private clouds are nonsense.  It is a marketing term that equates to product.  It is a way manufactures leverage both Public Cloud popularity and customer timidity by promising similar capabilities without the risks.

The problem with private clouds is that–being product-centric in nature–they are a moving target.  If you don’t have VMware, then VMware is the private cloud.  Once you have VMware, you are informed that you need Cisco UCS to truly call it a Cloud.  If you have UCS, then you should buy a vBlock.  Have a vBlock? Then it is Atmos!  As new products emerge, the Private Cloud will require them to be complete.

Private Cloud is the distraction the master magician has you focus on while the greater product sale takes place.

Not that any of the above products are bad.  They and others are the foundation of Public Cloud infrastructures for many, if not the majority, of providers.  However, owning a vBlock no sooner makes you an IT Cloud Provider than owning a scalpel makes you a brain surgeon.  It’s not about the tools; it’s about how you use them.

Hardware and software alone doesn’t cut it—in fact it hardly helps.  I’ve seen IT datacenters chock full of VMAX, UCS, Converged Networking, and all the goodies of the modern era, yet they STILL managed IT like the 90’s.  They budgeted, quoted, procured and implemented new infrastructure one server at a time, one hard drive at a time, one network port at a time; one sharp stick to the business’s eye at a time!  Consistently running IT resources at 100% of capacity doesn’t mean you are efficient; it means you are slow.

 

IT Has the Advantage

However, it is not all doom and gloom. IT has substantial high ground when it comes to competing with providers.

First, IT is close to the business.  It has a better idea of what the business needs than any 3rd party can.  It can cater it’s services specifically to the business units it serves. Second, it has flexibility in compromise.  If the business really needs a mainframe, IT can provide it.  Providers cannot be as flexible without jeopardizing their cost structures.  Finally, while providers have an ultimate interest in their own business, internal IT organizations have an ultimate interest in the business’s business. IT’s understanding of the business, if paired with the same passion for success as external providers, can drive revenue generating innovation that 3rd party providers literally can’t imagine.

 

Turn Lemons into Lemonade

Cloud may be at war with IT, but it can still be leveraged by IT.  Occasionally services need to be provided that fall outside IT’s core capabilities.  Like any business, IT should identify the services they want to provide in-house as well as the services that would best served externally.  Most restaurants don’t have lawn specialist’s on-staff.  They focus on the food and service, and hire out the lawn work.  Likewise, IT should identify the business needs that may be more efficiently handled by an outside provider.  Software as a Service is a great examples of this.  Why build out an Oracle farm and hire or train Oracle DBAs just for one application that a SaaS provider can maintain with better expertise at a better price point?

Instead of being replaced by providers, IT should be the general contractor to the business.  This means providing in-house, high-touch services for the IT business areas they choose to specialize in and contracting other needs to quality providers who are more specialized or have greater economies of scale.  The key here is the general contractor approach.  IT must be ultimately accountable for the work it performs and the work it sub-contracts. Don’t confuse this with a broker approach where IT is mostly an observer to the business-unit-to-provider exchange—only enabling IT integration—and blaming the provider when problems occur.

 

Cloud is the Last Thing You Should Do

Many IT organizations are too immature to fully embrace cloud today.  Jumping into either public or private “clouds” when you haven’t first developed the discipline to run IT as a business will leave you with a frustrated business unit, a chaotic IT infrastructure and very little reliable “cloud” capabilities to justify the expense.  Don’t be sold into believing a push-button, fully automated private cloud infrastructure is just one PO away.  This is why “Cloud” is the last thing you should do.  IT maturity needs to come first.

You can’t automate chaos.

1 comment to You Can’t Automate Chaos: Why Cloud is the Last Thing You Should Do

  • Jason A

    From the trenches I can see us in IT being at war with them (cloud). But I can’t help see that appetite for something different is because IT has been and continues to be archaic in its approach to dealing with business needs. For every IT Exec/group within an org that speaks about delivery transformation and (internal) customer focus there are at least 80% of the people from process, procurement, implementation groups and so on that have no idea they can affect this change. There is only so much a CIO or CTO can outline before front line managers, architects and techies have to start addressing this required shift. Your post is spot on from my point of view as someone that would like a working IT group that delivers what our business needs and wants. Great blog and I look forward to your posts.

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