Don’t let the cloud creep up on you! (also not at Cloud Expo NYC next week)

In IT we like to use fancy words like architecture, governance and strategy, but is our approach to IT innovations indeed as structured and planned as these terms imply or is IT in many cases just like real life: IT is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans? And if yes, does that also apply to cloud computing?

When I recently published my “to cloud or to compute” column, fellow columnist and IT service management expert Alee Roos submitted the following “confession”(at ITSM portal):

  • “… I’ll make an embarrassing confession. I had not been much interested in the cloud-thing but finally went to listen to a presentation on cloud and cloud security. It was only then I realized that I had already put most of my business in the cloud without thinking much about it. The point was that I had bought services like web-site, Outlook Exchange, remote backups and a eSurveys, not cloud. I bought them because they solved some immediate business need at a very reasonable price.”
But Alee is not alone; I believe many organizations are in the same predicament and not only for SaaS solutions. When speaking to the European CTO of one of the largest IaaS providers (now part of a large Telco) he explained how many of their customers tend to move to the cloud. At some point a customer may have a need for temporary test or development capacity. Because it is a one-off need and not as strategic as production workloads, they “give it a try”. Often that first try is successful and they are surprised it was that easy. So a few weeks later – when a new need arises – they take the same route again. Often without a lot of due diligence, because by now this is an already used solution from an already accepted vendor. And before they know it they have several critical and/or production systems running in a cloud.

Now this is not the first time this is happening in IT. Many of us were taken by surprise by departmental servers (mini’s), then we didn’t notice PCs become important and costly (remember one of the first TCO surveys, the one that rocked our world and the one that caused us to run around trying to “implement” ITIL so we could make them as reliable, controlled and efficient as our mainframes had always been?). Next we managed to underestimate that at some point everyone – not just a few exceptions in higher management – needed mobile phones. And just recently some companies discovered that they had spreadsheets running core business logic that had become so large and so complex that to continue running them, they had to buy dedicated servers (yes these Excel-only servers now exist). I can’t imagine that any IT professional would plan for these things to work out like this. And finally how about the “structured and strategic way” we are introducing tablets into the organization? Yes, as mentioned, IT is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. And now we risk letting the cloud creep up on us.

With SaaS most people have started to realize this, in fact our former CIO, David Hansen , now general manager of CA Technologies Enterprise Solutions and Cloud Management Business, explained to fellow CIOs at Evanta’s annual CIO Executive Summit how he – to get a feeling for what was being used sorted through the many authentication requests from inside the company to outside services. It was amazing to hear what employees were using, even back then, when cloud was not yet a household name and in a time when everything that was not approved by default was verboten (remember the days you had to leave the office to access Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc.?).

And now as an industry, are we at risk for similar experiences with IaaS, too? Guess it’s a case of l’histoire se répète (but a Dutch proverb involving a Donkey also comes to mind).

Of course you could ask: how bad is it if this happens? If users are happy, prices are reasonable and service is good. Why should we care? Well –beside the obvious one: risk management – avoiding vendor lock-in seems to be a pretty good reason. Just be sure it doesn’t creep up on you while you’re busy making other big plans.

By the way, I will be speaking more about this topic in my session at Cloud Expo on Tuesday afternoon at the Javits Center in New York: “Cloud Users of the World, Unite!, How to Remedy Cloud Lock-in.

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