Maintaining control of data environments has long been one of the primary challenges for IT. But the stakes have gotten substantially higher now that the cloud is upon us and data is routinely encountering infrastructure outside the enterprise.
I'm not the first person to raise the specter of the "rogue cloud" and I probably won't be the last. But the fact remains that the cloud raises a number of fundamental issues regarding the establishment, use and overall governance of data and data infrastructure. In an age when business units, or even individuals, can spin up resources on the cloud from their cell phones and use it to house critical data, how is the enterprise expected to keep tabs on its most valuable commodity?
One of the best ways, of course, is to figure out why the cloud is so popular and then seek to emulate it on internal infrastructure. As ActiveState Software CEO Bart Copeland notes, most users aren't driven to the cloud just for the excitement of trying something new. Rather, they find it much quicker and easier than going through IT. Practically everyone is on a deadline these days, and the short-term consequences of blowing a production schedule weigh more heavily than the possibility that data will get lost or stolen in the cloud. The best way, then, for the enterprises to ease their burden is by implementing their own PaaS architectures on a private cloud. Not only does this provide all the flexibility and self-service capabilities of public clouds, but it keeps data safely within the confines of established governance and management programs.
The answer to rogue infrastructure is not only found in technology, however. After all, people were sneaking unauthorized client devices and even appliances into data environments long before the cloud showed up. On a more fundamental level, IT needs to become more user-friendly by redefining itself as an enabler of technology services rather than the guardian of infrastructure, according to Bloor Research's Gerry Brown. Like a new mother teaching a toddler to walk, IT needs to nurture users as they first learn and then master data management skills. Only after it has earned a level of trust and respect will it be able to enforce rules of behavior.
In the end, however, the enterprise will resist the cloud at its own peril. Services like Dropbox are already crowing about 100 million users or more despite attempts at prohibition by many organizations. As citeworld.com's Nancy Gohring points out, official blocks on company infrastructure can be easily circumvented via smartphones and tablets. But much the same way SaaS was met with resistance in the beginning, fear eventually gives way to acceptance, especially once upper management discovers the utility that such services provide.
All of this gets to the very heart of the profound changes taking place in IT infrastructure. In the old days, new technologies usually meant better, faster, more efficient operations, but they ultimately left the same underlying server, storage and networking elements in place. Nowadays, infrastructure is abstracted from hardware, applications and data are fungible commodities that can be scattered across the globe, and IT managers need to do some real soul searching about what sort of role they expect to play in the new data ecosystem.