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On Death and Dying in the Cloud

by Daryl Plummer  |  February 22, 2009  |  Comments Off on On Death and Dying in the Cloud

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did a treatment about the stages of grief a person goes through on being told that their life would soon end. I would like to take liberties with that treatment and apply it to cloud computing for a moment. Why, you might ask? The cloud is just coming into most people’s minds, not dying – you might say. Well, I think that is right, but it is also prudent to temper our enthusiasm for a new concept especially in light of the fact that IT organizations often fail to achieve the more interesting bits of a new paradigm for computing. Just as in the past with PCs, Client/Servers computing, and the Internet, IT organizations (especially large ones) will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to actually adopt and gain significant value from cloud computing. That is just a reality we must face.

So, in light of that, it is time we started pushing back on the new hot term called cloud computing. Now don’t get me wrong. The promise of cloud computing is there, but we must temper the enthusiasm, and because we are Gartner, we must provide insights into how more value can be achieved while not floating away into cloud nirvana. Besides, all big concepts like this eventually die. Well, they change into something else usually, but it’s more fun to say they died. Cloud computing will change, and some will say it died. They will be wrong (just like those who say client/server died – the Internet IS client server, for the love of Pete!) but they will say it anyway – hence, the title of this post. Let’s look at the stages one might go through on the way to that eventuality.

Read these as if there is a running dialog going on in your head. Does any of this sound familiar?

Anger: Oh, No! Here comes another big concept – cloud computing. The vendors, analysts, and industry pundits are over-hyping it. All the examples are just consumer (use a denigrating whiny voice) examples. We have just gotten our first SOA project done and now we have to go look at this stuff? C’mon! Can’t we just finish one thing before we start another? They said SOA would be easy and its way more complex that we were told. Why didn’t anyone tell us we had to change our culture and processes and skills? I’m just going to ignore this cloud thing and wait for the next industry evo-revo-lution.

Well. That sure was angry. But it’s not far from what many think, and they have a point. How many big concepts is one company expected to absorb at one time? Whether it is Service Oriented Architecture, or Event Driven Architecture, or Enterprise Architecture, or Business Process Management, or Virtualization, or SaaS, or Cloud Computing, there are a lot of things that keep bombarding your IT people. It will make people angry and less likely to be able to deliver value from all of the ideas. The solution, however, is simple – we must not treat all of these as different initiatives! We must actually take parts of each (smaller bites) and combine them into a reasonable set of tasks that we can accomplish. Easier said than done, but that is part of my job, explaining how. Call me.

Denial: This cloud stuff will go away if I just ignore it. I can wait it out like I waited out that Internet thing and that client server thing and that e-business thing and that SOA thing. If I wait long enough, I won’t have to do anything at all!

I tried this in high school. I still graduated. What is really important about this stage is that more consistently practical uses of cloud computing may surface as denials continue to float around. As the cynics and those most concerned about protecting their data work through their fears, we all work through to more reasonable approaches to using the cloud. But we will all be affected by it. The ostrich syndrome won’t work anymore. The ground is being dug up around us. As companies change their model for interaction with their customers, and as consumers continue to affect corporate IT decisions there will be those who benefit from new paradigms like cloud computing more than others. That starts the ground-swell and soon, the ostrich finds no-where to hide – except, perhaps, in a stew.

Bargaining: Well, perhaps we can convince everyone not to do this – or maybe we can do it in a private cloud context only!

Well, this makes common sense. Why not protect what you can? I doubt anyone would disagree with this. But beware complacency. As the private implementation of cloud concepts gets examined, it looks a lot like what a well-run data center looks like and the advantages are good but limited long term value (This is a whole research note being readied). But, while something like cloud computing is just getting rolling it is simply irresponsible to ignore a potential option like private clouds. Just don’t stop there!!

Depression: I can’t believe I have to do this. My workload is already high. And, this is potentially going to reduce my value to the company as more of my IT shop gets outsourced to the cloud.

True. All true. Now get over it and start looking at where new skills and new opportunities will emerge. And guess who can drive value sooner if they get past the depression – well the seasoned IT experts if they adjust their thinking toward making this cloud thing real in common-sense ways.

Acceptance: Ok. So this cloud thing is happening. Now, who can tell me how to do it right!

That, is the best question of all. There are thousands of cloud “instant experts” out there. But few will tell you exactly how you should go about it step by step. The vendors have a vested interest in pushing a given angle. So, you should be looking at things like, your cost of capital goods, your ability to eliminate or to hide complexity, the volatility of your data, and what workloads are the first ones to move – if any.

Now, I ran a very large data center in Florida for a while and have been involved in these kinds of issues most of my life, so I have seen them come and go and come back again. I had a Data Center director tell me once that PCs were a fad that would fade away. He faded away. How are PCs doing, guys? I had an IT manager (one of mine) tell me that Client/server computing could never work. It’s impossible, he said. It’s possible I fired him. I had a VP of IT at a major bank tell me that no-one would ever put a credit card number into one of them new-fangled web pages because it’s not secure. I think he just bought his new retirement condo off eBay.

Anyway, my point is that IT people are not usually the ones to lead the way into new territory. But, they are often the ones that have to make it work. And, they don’t have the best track record for getting the most value out of the concepts. Too much hype and too little practical reality is in play here. The stages of life and death of concepts like the cloud all have value and we should now be challenging the concept as much as we laud its potential. Chaos is more likely than order, but I want my part of the order and to avoid chaos I can see coming. What about you?

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Category: cloud  emerging-phenomena  emerging-trends  service-orientation  

Tags: caution  cloud  hype  private-cloud  

Daryl C. Plummer
Managing VP & Gartner Fellow
18 years at Gartner
35 years IT industry

Daryl Plummer is vice president, chief of Research and chief Gartner Fellow. Mr. Plummer manages the Gartner Fellows Program, which is designed to allow senior analysts the opportunity to explore new research ideas and to elevate… Read Full Bio

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