I think we’ve talked before about what it means to be a cloud technology, or, more precisely, what people mean when they call things cloud technologies, cloud-like, or even just grossly label some form of computing “the cloud.” In this post, I want to take a few minutes discuss the way we at GreenPages look at this space and how we define and describe cloud technologies and the rising ecosystems that surround them.
This conversation is going to have 2 distinct but well integrated sections:
- Why cloud? Why now?
- Decoupling the business benefits from the operation of compute assets
Why Cloud? Why Now?
At its very basic instantiation, “cloud” is a label affixed to a whole host of interrelated (and completely separate) technologies and concepts that have been in widespread use throughout the IT community for years. I often hear from customers that they’ve been doing cloud since before it was called utility computing—and I don’t doubt that they think they have done so—but what they’ve been doing is not really even close to what cloud computing is capable of doing today…which is why I need to first explain how we got here.
It’s all about maturity and the convergence of 3 main factors that have put cloud computing on its present course.
- Maturity in IT Governance
- Process Maturity
- Technology Maturity
Maturity in IT Governance means that the “people” systems that are associated with IT have gotten to a point where the investment and business requirements for specific system components (and entire systems) are now examined and compared to other system components (et al) as far as precedence and priority. The people who run IT no longer fund the first project that shows up to the corporate ATM but instead have rigorous analysis programs and weighting according to business needs and current/future initiatives that set the order in which these projects are funded. What this means in the greater sense is that the folks who run IT have gotten to the point where internal procedural systems can determine “the most bang for the buck” which typically trumps political and emotional pressures because they can accurately show benefit (ROI, TCO, etc.).
The short story is that projects for only the most efficient and effective systems get funded….which are to say cloud technologies.
Process maturity has gotten to a level where there are now very clear and unambiguous methodologies for accomplishing virtually all IT-related tasks. As industry and international standards have driven out the ambiguity related to these processes, process tool makers have embraced these standards toward reducing the inefficiencies of their tools and technology components. While different vendors may call what they do by different names, under the covers, the tools generally accomplish the exact same things as far as automating processes.
Finally, technology (hardware and software) have matured to the point that they are able to accomplish literally hundreds of thousands of separate tasks (i.e. automation) that are tied together into value chains of activity (i.e. orchestration) in order to accomplish specific goals and objectives within IT. Up until even a few years ago, the underlying hardware and software platforms were simply not up to the task of controlling for all of these potentially millions of variables, one-offs, and exceptions. Whereas before it made no sense to automate a task because, based on the complexity and the number of choices involved, a human could accomplish it faster; that cannot be assumed to be true anymore. Not even close actually.
Decoupling…what it means…
The age old dichotomy between business and IT has been one of the immovable object against the irresistible force; an impossibility because neither technically can exist in the same reality. Whereas the business wants to move ever faster and adopt emerging technologies as quickly as possible in order to exploit opportunities, capture markets, and increase revenue…IT wants to standardize across their environments, reduce complexity wherever possible, and drive out variation in every part of their systems and, indeed, their world.
This is traditional companies:
The business thinks that IT is 10 steps in the past, risk averse, and much too slow…while IT thinks that the business is technologically immature, rash, and purposefully unaware of the risks. Immovable object meets irresistible force. What cloud technologies and concepts do is effectively decouple the business benefit of the compute asset from the operation of the asset itself. That way each group gets to do what they do best, their core competencies, without stepping all over the feet of the other group.
The business, by having their processes and capabilities definitively separated from the actual operation of the equipment they use, is able to move as fast and as efficiently as they want while the IT organization is still able to drive standardization and operational efficiencies ever deeper into their systems, regardless of what the business does or doesn’t want to do. There is no effect from what one does to what the other is able to do because they have been decoupled and are able to operate independently.
As well as operate independently, they are also able to optimize each of their realms independently (with the happy side effect of making the other more valuable) based purely on their own priorities and reasoning. For example; the IT Organization has found a better storage methodology and vendor so they want to swap out their entire storage platform—the platform beneath their production environment—and they can do so without affecting the business because they have virtualized storage which renders the underlying hardware a commodity and easily swappable.
Or another example is that the business wants to offer a typically on-premise software package to their customers as a SaaS offering. They are able to basically configure the software themselves and, based on a cloud infrastructure, slice and dice the resources in such a way that they can push that software out as a secure, multi-tenant, online resource.
These examples are only possible because the middle part of that environment—where business meets IT—is abstracted by cloud technologies such as automation and orchestration, self-service portals, service desks and catalogs.
This is cloud.
Where Business meets the IT Organization (where once was a battlefield) is where cloud technologies live and, although that’s not entirely true in the physically sense, it is entirely true in the philosophical sense as it is where the two groups meet as far as prioritization, funding, etc. Cloud is the abstraction, from either side, of what each group wants to do—what’s in their best interest—such that each only sees what materially affects their reality while also allowing them to see the overall goals and objectives of the parent organization….and they can only do this because of the current levels of maturity in IT Governance, Process and Technology.