Many readers will have seen reports in the press about a survey of top CIOs undertaken by Forrester on our behalf. The data are extremely interesting, in particular in the way they highlight two long-running trends which are not yet fully understood in the market.
The first item is about who the users of the cloud are. It is becoming increasingly clear that IT-led cloud projects are often solutions in search of problems. Users know what they want, and increasingly they are going around IT to obtain the services they require directly from third-party suppliers. The cloud is not about IT infrastructure, or at least not directly. This means in turn that IT metrics are not the correct way to measure the cloud. Time to provision a VM is all well and good, but this is a measurement of the underlying virtualization platform. A cloud platform which satisfies users' requirements needs to be designed and measured according to users' needs and perceptions. The relevant metric therefore is not the time to provision raw IT infrastructure, but the time to provision a business service which can be consumed by its users without further IT work.
The second point of interest follows from the first. When users are in many cases bypassing central IT and going directly to third parties, they expose the company to risk around the security of data and compliance around those data. Respondents to the survey - CIOs, VPs of infrastructure, and similar roles - indicate that they expect to be responsible for these third-party services as well as services that have been specified in a more traditional manner. However the difficulty will be that the technological infrastructure of internal and external services will often be different, as the two have been designed in complete isolation from one another. Users and management will nevertheless expect the IT department to take over responsibility for access to these services, compliance, and security. IT departments will therefore need heterogeneous management platforms which are able to address the various types of infrastructure which users have already adopted, as well as being open to new offerings which may become available in the future. These management platforms will need to be able to address all the complexity of existing in-house systems, as well as delivering the flexibility to adopt and reject any of the various different offerings in the burgeoning public-cloud market. This requirement for management goes beyond the simple availability of an API; management platforms will need to understand the characteristics of each of these platforms in order to be able to allocate business services intelligently to appropriate resources.
These two points, taken together, constitute vital inputs to a serious roadmap to value in the cloud. IT departments need to consider cloud as radically different to what they have done until now, because of this user-led dimension. A purely technological approach is bound to leave users dissatisfied. Intelligent and flexible business-oriented management solutions are required.
The risk for internal IT departments, and one of the fears described by respondents, is that they begin to be perceived as irrelevant to companies' operations. The truth is that this is hardly ever the case. As soon as a company grows beyond a certain size, the expertise which dedicated IT professionals can supply becomes invaluable, whether those professionals are managing a data center full of physical servers or administering an infrastructure which is entirely located in the public cloud - or anything in between. However, to achieve this change of perception - from cost center, to trusted advisors - IT departments need to be much more transparent to the rest of the business. Many IT departments are used to operating almost in a vacuum, without having to deal with competition. With cloud technologies, users start questioning why they are able to obtain resources in a few minutes to an hour from public-cloud providers, but must wait several days or weeks to obtain a superficially comparable resource from internal IT. The answer is for IT to communicate much more clearly what goes into that time difference and what the difference in the resulting products is.
The is of course also a lot of scope to speed up the time of provisioning business services, in no small part by reducing or eliminating lag due to communication between different teams within IT: systems, networking, storage, database, middleware, R&D, security, auditors, and so on. Automation and orchestration are the key terms here, but these technologies must be guided by a business-service-centric view in order to deliver their full value. A narrow focus on pure automation also risks forgetting the largest communication gap of all: that between the end-user and the IT department. A self-service portal is understood to be a requirement of cloud platforms, but the true business value of cloud projects can only be reached if non-technical users are able to get value from it and manage their services from a business perspective.
There will be a webinar on the 26th of April to discuss the results of the survey in additional depth. Click here to enroll, or join the discussion in the comments below and on Twitter.