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What is the 'true' cloud journey?

While some may claim it's obvious how cloud adoption is going to evolve, those same people can't agree on how. Furthermore, most others in IT don't see it as remotely obvious.

The adoption of cloud computing is happening today, or so say a wide variety of analysts, vendors, and even journalists. The surveys show greatly increased interest in cloud computing concepts, and even increased usage of both public and private cloud models by developers of new application systems.


But does your IT organization really understand its cloud journey?

Friend, colleague, and cloud blogger Chris Hoff wrote a really insightful post today that digs into the reality--worldwide--of where most companies are with cloud adoption least in terms of internal "private cloud" infrastructure. In it, he describes the difficult options that are on the table for such deployments:

There is, however, a recurring theme across geography, market segment, culture, and technology adoption appetites; everyone is seriously weighing their options regarding where, how and with whom to make their investments in terms of building cloud computing infrastructure (and often platform) as-a-service strategy. The two options, often discussed in parallel but ultimately bifurcated based upon explored use cases, come down simply to this:

  1. Take any number of available open core or open-source software-driven cloud stacks, commodity hardware and essentially engineer your own Amazon, or

  2. Use proprietary or closed source virtualization-nee-cloud software stacks, high-end "enterprise" or "carrier-class" converged compute/network/storage fabrics and ride the roadmap of the vendors

One option means you expect to commit to an intense amount of engineering and development from a software perspective. The other means you expect to focus on integration of other companies' solutions. Depending upon geography, it's very, very unclear to enterprises [and] service providers what is the most cost-effective and risk-balanced route when use cases, viability of solution providers, and the ultimate consumers of these use-cases are conflated.

Hoff is pointing out that there are no "quick and easy" solutions out there. Even if, say, a vendor solution is a "drop in" technology initially, the complexity and tradeoffs of a long-term dependency on the vendor adds greatly to the cost and complexity.

On the other hand, open-source cloud stacks enable cheaper acquisition and more ways to implement the features that best suit your company's needs, but only at the cost of requiring additional development, engineering, and operations skills to get it working--and keep it working.

All of which leads to the likelihood that, as a whole, global IT will take some time to take private cloud "mainstream." So that means cloud computing isn't as disruptive as it was made out to be, right?

Wrong. Bernard Golden, CEO of Hyperstratus and a leading cloud blogger in his own right, pointed out today that it isn't the CIO or CTO that will control the pace of cloud adoption, but software developers:

The implication for that decisions made by developers create commitments for the organizations they are part of--commitments that the organization does not recognize at the time they are made by the developer and may, in fact, be decisions that, had the organization understood them at the time they were made by the developer, it would have eschewed them. The result is that two or three years down the road, these organizations "discover" technology decisions and applications that are based on choices made by developers without organizational review.

This may account for the curious lack of respect given Amazon on the part of IT organizations and vendors. O'Grady addresses this in a second post titled "Hiding in Plain Sight: The Rise of Amazon Web Services." In it, he primarily addresses the fact that most technology vendors evince little fear of Amazon, preferring to focus on private cloud computing environments. He attributes this, in part, to the vendors' desire to keep traditional margins rather than descending into a pricing battle with Amazon.

Golden goes on to point out that, in his opinion, the reason many vendors aren't seeing Amazon as direct competition in many deals is that they aren't talking to the same people:

I might attribute it to a different factor: Vendors primarily seek to talk to senior management, those who control budgets that pay for the vendors' products--and, as we've just noted, those managers often miss the reality of what developers are actually doing. Consequently, they won't be telling vendors how much public cloud is being used, and the vendors will respond with the time-honored "we don't really see them much in competitive situations" (I used to hear this a lot from proprietary software vendors about the open source alternatives to their products).

This, then, gets around to the point I made about the future of IT operations in my last post. If, indeed, cloud computing is an applications-driven operations model, and if application operations is managed separately from service or infrastructure operations, then application operations will almost certainly be developed/configured/whatever on an application-by-application basis.

If that is true, then the operations automation for applications will be:

  1. Created as part of the software development process, therefore influenced much more by development decisions than by IT operations decisions, and

  2. Will target specific deployment environments (clouds or cloud ecosystems), thereby predestining their ongoing operations requirements.

This is why I have said so many times on this blog that, though I believe that the short-medium term will see slow public cloud adoption, especially for critical workloads with legal compliance consequences, the long term will see an IT landscape in which hybrid IT rules, but public cloud will be a dominant deployment model (or acquisition model, in the case of software as a service).

The economics are just too compelling, and the technical issues just too solvable. Solving the legal issues remains to be seen, but there have been signs in the last year that both the courts and various legislative bodies are understanding the importance of protecting data in third-party environments. The corporate lawyers I've spoken to are reasonably sure that legal issues between cloud providers and their customers will be worked out in the next two to three years.

In the end, the journey to cloud computing won't be a planned one. It will be, as disruptions often are, evolutionary and happen in often unexpected ways. The question is, can your IT culture handle that?