Most of the commentary regarding the cloud these days (mine included) focuses on the myriad ways in which abstract, distributed architectures can remake the enterprise as we know it.
We talk of software-defined data environments, hyperscale infrastructure and advanced Big Data and mobile application environments that will allow organizations to shed their rusty legacy environments in favor of a brave new world of computing.
The trouble is, most organizations don’t want that – at least, not right away.
The simple fact of the matter is that radical change is frightening to most people, and the typical CIO or data management executive is driven not by a desire to deploy the latest and greatest technology but to implement solutions that contribute to the bottom line.
Forbes’ Ben Kepes recently highlighted some interesting research from NTT that sheds some light on the reality of enterprise cloud computing. In a recent survey, the company found that contrary to popular belief, there is no de facto approach or platform for supporting key applications in the cloud. Rather, a wide range of variables – everything from the nature of the app, its maturity and even regional differences – influence deployment decisions, including whether to release it to the cloud at all. In many cases, organizations are pursuing what is called “bimodal IT,” in which some apps are optimized for the cloud while others remain on legacy infrastructure. While this leads to complicated architectures, many respondents report that it is the best way to derive full value from their IT infrastructure.
Many cloud users are also starting to question the lofty ROI claims that they’ve been hearing over the past decade. According to West IP Communications, slightly more than half of respondents to a survey said they expect to recoup their cloud adoption costs, meaning that nearly half do not. Ironically, those with larger, more complex IT infrastructures are more bullish on the cloud, with two thirds of organizations that fund IT at $5 million or more saying they are confident that lower operating costs will cover deployment expenses.
Even organizations that have taken a strong liking to virtualization and converged infrastructure seem to be hedging their bets when it comes to full cloud operation. Interarbor Solutions’ Dana Gardner notes that only about 30 percent of the typical IT workload is currently on the cloud, and the majority of that is through software-as-a-service or shadow deployments. Instead, most initiatives center on extending existing virtual environments into storage, backup/recovery and limited cloud functionality rather than an all-encompassing cloud-based data environment. As a concept, the cloud is very appealing, but for go-to solutions many organizations are sticking with what they know.
The key stumbling block in wholesale cloud conversion is fear, says TechCrunch’s Ron Miller. Concern over new technologies is old hat, but when it also involves changes to the very fabric of the data center, an entirely new psychology comes into play. Technicians, admins and data users who have spent their lives dealing with integrated hardware/software stacks and one-to-one relationships between infrastructure and applications are understandably uneasy over the prospect of a free-wheeling, software-driven universe. This puts the established enterprise in an untenable position: While hungry start-ups are leveraging emerging IT solutions at a rapid rate, their own aging workforces remain the biggest resistors to change.
For all the hand-wringing, though, it seems apparent that the cloud will eventually emerge as the dominant form of IT through attrition. Younger generations of mobile-friendly workers are coming up through the ranks even as legacy systems are being replaced by cheaper, more flexible software solutions as part of the normal data center lifecycle.
There is no single way to manage this change, just as there is no single platform that will solve all your problems. But time and technology march inexorably forward, and the enterprise that does not keep pace will not be in a position to influence the course or the pace of events for much longer.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.