Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

The Enterprise Cloud: Are We There Yet?

A major theme of last month's EMC World 2012 conference was accelerating access to the hybrid cloud. Although a lot of progress has been made on this front, we're still a long way from broadly implementing full enterprise-class clouds. Is this an indictment of the whole cloud movement, or simply part of the normal course of events?

Although some might prefer the former, the more accurate answer is the latter. In fact, Joe Tucci, president and CEO of EMC, told analysts at EMC World that moving to the enterprise cloud is a 10-year project, and we're only a quarter of the way there. He's absolutely right. Valuable benefits have already been achieved (such as broad adoption of server virtualization), so don't be discouraged. Just be realistic.

Now, EMC obviously has a lot of help in accelerating the movement to the hybrid cloud. And EMC is ensuring that it and the IT industry are going in the right direction by pursuing the true IT as a service in its own IT organization.

EMC IT has been publicly on display for some time now, and was also prominent at EMC World. Let's look at just a few things about the organization, and what they mean for the big picture:

The changing business model of EMC IT: EMC IT was organized traditionally and is now undergoing a transformative process. It is easy to say that it's going from reactive (taking in project requests, for example) to proactive (getting ahead of the curve), and from bureaucratic ("Here are our procedures for your working with us.") to business-focused ("Here is what we can do for you."). But those processes are hard. IT as a service means there's a service catalog from which consumers can choose, but this requires new metrics for success.

Service-level agreement (SLA) capabilities--such as response time, availability, data protection and compliance--all have to be monitored and measured, which has required internal reorganization. The responsibilities of some have been expanded to brand people, who once managed systems more as product managers but are responsible for all aspects of a service.

EMC IT said this process is moving forward well. There's still a place for technical specialists who don't feel comfortable taking on a broader role with more interaction with consumers of services. EMC IT seems to understand that transition process. Some people will relish the opportunity to broaden their roles; others derive job satisfaction from their technical knowledge. Accommodating the needs of both is necessary to retain the skills necessary for the enterprise cloud.

It's all about the money: One can rhapsodize all day about the benefits of IT as a service in the enterprise cloud, but if the cost of service was not expected to be less, the sell would be a lot harder. The reason is simple: If the cost of the cloud was higher, a case based on value would have to be made. That could be done, but the economic hoops that would have to be jumped through internally could be quite painful. However, if the cloud costs less, then the internal financial gatekeepers allow cloud development to pass through without checking the value-added credentials.

So how do the cost efficiencies come about? Standardization, virtualization, integration and automation are some approaches. IT has long illustrated the high costs of customization in terms of hardware, software and management inefficiencies. Standardization is the antidote--the fewer types of hardware or software there are to be managed, the fewer types of skill sets will be needed.

Virtualization is not only about efficiencies of consolidation, but also for moving workloads around more easily. Integration is about the tighter coupling of IT infrastructure components (servers, storage and networks) with better monitoring capabilities that improve resource utilization, responsiveness and reliability. Automation reduces the per-unit-of-work administrative overhead.

As might be expected, EMC IT focuses on a virtual computing environment (VCE) that combines the efforts of Cisco, EMC and VMware to apply standardization, virtualization, integration and automation. As the primary product instantiation of VCE, Vblocks are playing a big role in this process. Still, there's much work to do to transition EMC IT from a heavily manual way of doing business.

Be realistic about services: IT as a service is a great idea, but that doesn't mean there are an infinite number of services or a continuum of choices, even for a single service. For a particular service, EMC IT is finding that three business-class buckets--small, medium and large--may correspond to service-quality levels, such as gold, silver and bronze.

Moreover, service consumers aren't able to opt out of necessary functionality, such as adequate backup protection or meeting compliance regulations. If they did, it would threaten to degrade the entire process. In addition, EMC IT may not be able to predict all necessary requests, so the door has to remain open to customized projects that have sufficient financial justification. However, pay-as-you-go remains the way to go. EMC IT is experimenting with a 30-day limited self-service sandbox to gain a better understanding of what's needed.

The movement to an enterprise cloud is a major change, and, while we expect it to be very positive, that's not to say there won't be trials and tribulations along the way. So we must expect the transition to take a good deal of time and have its challenges. In that sense, EMC IT is a pathfinder cutting a navigable way through the IT infrastructure jungle. It's experiencing changes in its business model, including requiring an internal reorganization, implementing state-of-the-art technology (VCE's Vblocks) and taking a realistic view of what it means to provide IT as a service. IT professionals must be prepared to manage expectations--the journey to the true cloud will take some time--but effectively meeting checkpoints can keep progress going forward.

Disclaimer: EMC is a client of David Hill and the Mesabi Group.