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Cloud computing will cause three IT revolutions

Bernard Golden | Feb. 10, 2010
Every revolution results in winners and losers -- after the dust settles.

When it comes to cloud computing, we should expect to see the same dynamic play out. Over the next two to five years, expect to see enormous conflict about the technical pros and cons of cloud computing that will, at bottom, be motivated by the perception on the part of the participants as to whether cloud computing represents a benefit to be embraced or a threat to be resisted.

In particular, cloud computing's three characteristics -- the illusion of infinite scalability, lack of a long-term commitment, and pay-by-the-use -- will result in three revolutions in the way IT is performed, and each of the revolutions will have its adherents and detractors.

Revolution #1: The Change in IT Operations

Much is made of the magic of Amazon Web Services -- fill out a web page, hit a button, and 10 minutes later, you've got computing resources available. Even more impressive, you can obtain large amounts with that request. And later, should you need even more resources to be added to your original pool, they're easily requested and joined to the existing resources. This is the vision that many find so tantalizing, given today's lengthy provisioning cycle, which in many companies results in months-long gaps between request and resource availability. Many think removing all the friction of resource provisioning is a huge win. One might think of this change as the logical extension of the view that hardware has been transformed from a scarce, expensive resource into a cheap, easily purchased commodity -- the logical outcome of which is the need to treat provisioning it like a mass good, not a precious luxury.

Perhaps less obvious is the implications of this vision -- that existing processes and organizational structures need to change to support this new mode of automated management.

Today, IT organizations interpose a large set of processes and requirements in the provisioning process. Budget requests, discussions with the various operations groups like network and storage, scheduling meetings, all surrounded with lots of paperwork. And these mechanisms make sense for an environment in which they help ration scare resources. They are in place to ensure that each precious resource is devoted to its highest possible use.

The problem is that these mechanisms are orthogonal to the streamlined, short-duration provisioning associated with cloud computing (the au courant term is orchestration, representing the unified bringing together of resource assignment in an automated manner). In effect, there is an impedance mismatch between the operational implications of cloud computing and the organizational artifacts that exist today. And, as noted at the start of this piece, any time this kind of mismatch occurs, there is bound to be organizational conflict -- carried on at the level of technical discussion. After all, no one is going to say about cloud computing, "I don't like it because I'm not sure how my job managing the installation and configuration of servers will be needed when someone can just fill out a web form and have the infrastructure itself arrange for the provisioning."


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