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The Enterprise Cloud: Who's ready for who?

Yesterday Amazon announced it’s Virtual Private Cloud, which many folks are taking to be a big step towards making Amazon’s cloud offerings “enterprise ready.” Several people have asked for my (and RedMonk’s) views on it. Here’s a quick take.

Ready when you are

This VPC offering doesn’t Amazon any more “enterprise ready” than it already was. Said “ready” has more to do with enterprises being ready for the cloud vs the cloud for it. There was that PCI dust-up last week. But the point is: if enterprises wanted to use Amazon, both sides would figure out how to make it work if it didn’t already. Just like any technology, like VisiCalc or the web. As a side-note, VPN-Cubed has done things along these lines for a little under (or over?) a year now, while MSPs and other cloud folks do this kind of thing already.

What it does do is create some FUD from Amazon about the idea of “private clouds.” As Vogels bluntly put it “[p]rivate Cloud is not the Cloud.” In fact, looking solely at the marketing around VPC, that’s pretty much how I’d sum up the message from Amazon, “this phrase private cloud’ is meaningless. There is only (public) cloud.”

My lengthier summary, with some reading in on my part, from my links round up yesterday:

  • “Private Cloud is not the Cloud.”
  • “Elasticity” encompasses scaling up, but also quick provisioning [nice one!].
  • The cloud does well at “delivering differentiating business value,” which is all that “business/IT alignment” talk we’ve been aspiring to forever.
  • (on-premise) virtualization is a distraction from (public) cloud acceptance.

There’s a lot of money in being recondite

On the positive side, it’s good to start widling down what exactly “private cloud” means. I’ve waffled on the worth of the phrase as (a.) its usually used to point at genuinely good and helpful technologies, but, (b.) isn’t a perfect fit for what “cloud” has come to mean. Folks like IBM and others have pushed “private cloud” to mean the optimizing and automating business service delivery using cloud computing technologies. To frame it in the snarky view, finally making autonomic computing “work.” (Coincidently, back in 2001 when autonomic computing was floated [according to wikipedia], Joel posted his famous “Good Software Takes Ten Years. Get Used To It.” piece, which matches up the dates for cloud computing pretty well ;>)

Folks like Amazon, RightScale, 3Tera (depending on who’s asking), Eucalyptus (depending on who’s asking, but less so), Rackspace Cloud, etc. see “cloud computing” as something more low-level than just making the IT department run “better” with virtualization, automation, and streamlined ITSM – they see it as a fundamental change in how IT is done, primarily by moving everything out of IT or, at least, optimizing the delivery of IT to the extent that all that ITSM process isn’t needed to protect IT from itself and “the business.” I like Chuck Hollis’ way of putting this:

Standard IT procedures and architectures don’t meet the needs of these groups [of folks asking for cloud computing that EMC talks with]. Fail to meet their needs, and IT will lose control of an important constituency.

Indeed, as you drill down into the preciously few examples of brand-name corporations using external cloud services such as Amazon et. al., you’ll usually find a user constituency with unmet needs.

Go back and look at these sample user groups I’ve outlined. In most cases, they’re responsible for creating significant business value for their organizations they work in. If they organize themselves, they’re more than capable of having enough clout to go outside the firewall to get what they need.

The jaundiced reply from the long-beards in IT is, of course, “feel free to do that, but don’t go calling me at 3AM when your ‘cloud’ goes down.”

FUD Round-up

The conversation that isn’t happening enough from either side of the cloud fence – old-school Amazonians or dry-clean shirt wearing private clouders – is how a company has to change it’s IT department to benefit from cloud computing. The discussion around Agile Infrastructure (or “Agile Operations,” if you please) is a start, sure, but there’s not enough elder companies at the table.

There’s all sorts of questions and concerns with adopting cloud computing:

  • If the IT department has spent years trying to fix itself with ITSM and “align to the business,” how does all this cloud stuff – straight public, hybrid, or private – change the daily life of IT people?
  • Do you fire all of them except the desktop people and the network/security people?
  • How do you move those ancient, but “mission critical” ERP systems to the cloud?
  • What do you do with all those data centers, servers, switches, storage arrays, etc.?
  • How do you move your service desk over to supporting purely cloud setups, SaaSes?
  • Do you even have a service desk, or do your employees just call up Google when their GMail doesn’t work?
  • What if you’re Barnes and Nobel (or any retailer): do you want to run your IT on Amazon, if not, where?
  • When something goes wrong (a bad configuration that prevents an application from starting up, let’s say), do you do the same old diagnosing of problems, or do you need to use new tools and practices?

Some of those questions – and many out there – are just FUD: stalling tactics and distractions that favor the incumbent vendors. For the most part, I’m not really sure what the reasons are, beyond cultural ones and the rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” for enterprise to avoid cloud computing. Sure, if you’re the NSA or whatever, you probably want to control all your computation. But what about other large outfits?

Dealing with Amazon

What’s scary about Amazon’s VPC announcement for private cloud folks is how clear and straight-forward they are. Their offerings are simple compared to the task of dealing with existing enterprise data centers. That tidiness looks attractive to enterprise IT buyers who are used to multi-year cycles and expensive bills. On the other hand, all that complexity can often work and end up running a business just fine.

My advice to private cloud people worried about Amazon being “more enterprise ready” is to clean up your own cloud and IT management messaging and programs. Cloud computing shouldn’t mean the fix for “everything.” It should be extremely straight forward, easy to understand, and easy to understand the benefits of. If you’re a buyer, you should be drawing up a list of reasons to stay in on-premise (it’s always nice to do flip a questions around like that) and see what they are in your case.

In my view, the culture around cloud computing is largely a rebellion against the word “enterprise” when it comes to IT. A similar, clumsy theatre played out in the development world in the rails vs. Java “war” several years ago until both sides realized they could help each other out. I suspect we’ll see the same thing in the “RIA wars” as well.

Folks worried about Amazon poaching their turf should stop trying to make the cloud ready for the enterprise, and start making their existing customer base ready for the cloud. That’s the best thing an enterprise can pay a vendor for after all, change. The actual technology is just the sugar around the pill.

Disclosure: IBM, Sun, Adobe, and Microsoft are clients.

Categories: Cloud, Enterprise Software, Systems Management.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] Amazon VPC – John doesn’t like the whole railing against “private clouds” slant. See Coté’s advice to other cloud vendors. [...]