We’re all doing it, but not very well

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24 May 2017 | 0

Paul HearnsA report from IDC and Cisco on cloud computing has concluded that cloud computing is fully mainstream, and perhaps begs the wider question of whether it should just be referred to as computing.

The “Cloud Going Mainstream: All Are Trying, Some Are Benefiting; Few Are Maximising Value” report found that of the 11,350 respondents, and more than 6,000 who said they are actively using cloud computing under one of its accepted definitions, cloud usage was up by 61% from last year, with nearly three quarters (73%) pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy. Private cloud spending is set to increase by more than 40% over the next two years.

However, a key finding in all of this cloudy goodness is that less a third of organisations are in the mature bracket of cloud computing, comprising the optimised, managed and repeatable cloud strategy groups.

“The majority of organisations are still struggling to achieve maturity, says the report. Only 3% regarded themselves as being optimised, with 11% saying they are in a managed cloud state”

So, it would appear as if the world is rushing headlong into cloud computing but very few of us are actually doing it to any kind of mature level, despite the demonstrable benefits of such.

According to the report, there are a number of clear areas of benefit in cloud computing. Increased revenue, lower cost of IT operations, agility in time to provision, meeting service level agreements and strategic allocation of budget. For example, in managed or optimised cloud environments, the reduction in IT operating costs can be as much as 77%, compared with just 13% for what is termed an opportunistic cloud environment. Similar differences can be seen in time to provision. In optimised environments, the reduction in time to provision can be as much as 87%, compared to just 36% in opportunistic cloud.

Annual benefit
The report says that the average annual benefit per application was up to $3 million, while a further $1 million was available in reduced costs.

Despite all of this, the majority of organisations are still struggling to achieve maturity, says the report. Only 3% regarded themselves as being optimised, with 11% saying they are in a managed cloud state. Some 28% were ad hoc, 19% were opportunistic and 22% said they had no real strategy at all.

Why is it that companies are struggling to achieve a level of maturity in cloud usage that would allow them to progress from the strategy-less and ad hoc ranks toward the managed and optimised?

The usual inhibitors of cloud adoption are cited in the report, which could go some way to explaining the situation. The familiar themes of a lack of skills, legacy structured and siloed organisations and a misalignment of IT with line of business. However, I would argue that it goes a little further than that and, unfortunately, stems in part from old habits.

When x86 servers became reliable, they were also very cheap. That meant that a normal human response crept in and organisations tended to buy a lot of them, stack them high and ask questions later. It took quite some time for governance to catch up and start to ask those important questions of whether a server was needed, how it was to be managed, what its lifetime usage might look like and how it might be retired. The problem had previously been so bad that it was not uncommon for the back-up and antivirus applications to take up more processing resources than the application the server was commissioned to host.

However, the governance then got out of hand to the point where it started to take weeks to even commission a server, further leading to inefficiencies and lack of agility.

Another cycle
Then came virtualisation and suddenly the whole cycle kicked off again.

Anyone could commission a virtual machine (VM) to do whatever they wanted and they did, in their droves. But again, people did not clean up after themselves and VM sprawl became a very real malaise for many organisations leading to the back lash of tighter controls to counteract the waste. This ebbed and flowed back and forth until the provisioning lessons were learned and in many cases automated processes became task-based and took the specification out of the commissioner’s hands unless they were of very elevated status.

These lessons did creep into the world of cloud computing, private, public and hybrid, but lagging behind the self-service breakthroughs that essentially allowed anyone with a credit card and a basic knowledge of IP addresses to spin up a rack’s worth of infrastructure (be it virtual or actual). This lack of governance at the same level of accessibility led to the provision of cloud computing at a speed which pleased everyone but with the usual consequences seen in previous generations, but this time without the dire consequences seen before. There were not the crippling power bills, or boot storms of AV that effectively shut down data centres for 20 minutes every morning.

Just looking at the stats from the report, an organisation that has even an opportunistic cloud approach can still achieve a 13% saving in IT operational costs. Just think about that and put it in the context of three of even five years ago and what reaction would you have got from the board?

The same goes for time to provision. As we emerged from the depths of recession and things like social media, the Internet of Things and Big Data were new buzzwords to be taken advantage of, if you went to the board as the CIO or IT manager and said you could achieve a saving in time to provision of 36%, you would have been carried out shoulder high!

And this gets to crux of the issue: cloud computing has become ubiquitous because it is so accessible, even with the least amount of knowledge and pragmatic application, that it can confer such benefits. But it is only in seeing how the best of the best do it, and the extraordinary benefits they achieve as a result, that such paltry exploitation is set in its proper light.

So who is to blame? As usual, everyone! The vendors in getting organisations to adopt have failed in making the governance and controls tools as easy to use and readily applicable as they could. The service providers were slow to point out optimisations as an ‘if it ain’t broke…’ attitude prevailed for some time, failing to spur organisations further on their maturity journey. And organisations failed themselves for all the usual reasons too—it worked, the initial wins were good and no one was screaming.

Hopefully one of the lessons from those previous generations will also apply here in that when best practice is fully described in case studies, how-to books and free webinars, those possibilities become known as widely as the low-hanging fruit benefits. So instead of a CEO asking when we will have a cloud, they will be actively asking ‘how mature is our cloud and what can we do to improve it?’. Widespread knowledge, being power, will hopefully give momentum to what is now confirmed as a mainstream set of technologies.



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