Why the Cloud Scares Traditional IT

March 7, 2014

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My background is "traditional IT." I've been architecting and promoting enterprise virtualization solutions since 2002, and over the past few years, public and hybrid cloud solutions have become a serious topic of discussion ... and in many cases, contention. The customers who gasped with excitement when VMware rolled out a new feature for their on-premises virtualized environments would dismiss any recommendations of taking a public cloud or a hybrid cloud approach. Off-premises cloud environments were surrounded by marketing hype, and the IT departments considering them had legitimate concerns, especially around security and compliance.

I completely understood their concerns, and until recently, I often agreed with them. The cloud model is intimidating. If you've had control over every aspect of your IT environment for a few decades, you don't want to give up access to your infrastructure, much less have to trust another company to protect your business-critical information. But now, I think about those concerns as the start of a conversation about cloud, rather than a "no-go" zone. The cloud is different, but a company's approach to it should still be the same.

What do I mean by that? Enterprise developers and engineers still have to serve as architects to determine the functional and operational requirements for their services. In that process, they need to determine the suitability of a given platform for the computing workload and the company's business objectives and core competencies. Unfortunately, many of the IT decision-makers don't consider the bigger business context, and they choose to build their own "public" IaaS offerings to accommodate internal workloads, and in many cases, their own external clients.

This approach might makes sense for service providers, integrators and telcos because infrastructure resources are core components of their businesses, but I've seen the same thing happen at financial institutions, rental companies, and even an airline. Over time, internal IT departments carved out infrastructure-services revenue streams that are totally unrelated to the company's core business. The success of enterprise virtualization often empowered IT departments through cost savings and automation — making the promise of delivering public cloud “in-house” a natural extension and seemingly attractive proposition. Reshaping their perspectives around information security and compliance in that way is often a functional approach, but is it money well spent?

Instead of spending hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in capital to build out (often commoditized) infrastructure, these businesses could be investing those resources in developing and marketing their core business areas. To give you an example of how a traditional IT task is performed in the cloud, I can share my experience from when I first accessed my SoftLayer account: I deployed a physical ESX host alongside a virtual compute instance, fully pre-configured with OS and vCenter, and I connected it via VPN to my existing (on-prem) vCenter environment. In the old model, that process would have probably taken a couple of days to complete, and I got it done in 3 hours.

Now more than ever, it is the responsibility of the core business line to validate internal IT strategies and evaluate alternatives. Public cloud is not always the right answer for all workloads, but driven by the rapidly evolving maturity and proliferation of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings, most organizations will see significant benefits from it. Ultimately, the best way to understand the potential value is just to give it a try.

-Andy

Andreas Groth is an IBM worldwide channel solutions architect, focusing primarily on SoftLayer. Follow him on Twitter: @andreasgroth

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