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The title of this post could quite easily have been asked in reverse – is Cloud ready for the enterprise? Either way, understanding what IT means to the Enterprise is fundamental to answering the question.
The attached diagram (I’ll hold short of calling it an infographic) explains how the Enterprise has evolved over the last 30 years. In the days of the mainframe, everything was centralised. IT users were within the business, using technology to move the business forward. Those users would be small in number, as computing was expensive and not everyone could have it. The user base would be local or perhaps in branch offices, connected by point-to-point leased lines. Although the technology was expensive, it was predictable, as was the access profile of the user.
Move on to the late 1990s, and the mainframe starts to become legacy and retained only for niche requirements. Unix/Linux and Windows has seen significant adoption due to lower costs of acquisition and management and of course because the business could deploy those servers outside of IT’s control and without the need for a datacentre, although it did eventually migrate the new platforms into the IT function. The user profile changed somewhat, with users having VPN access (typically using business hardware) and the start of customer-facing IT through the web. At this stage, it’s very much still Web 1.0, with static content and some e-commerce. Remember we’re talking Enterprise here; Web 2.0 as a term was coined in 1999 and existed for many other organisations, but initially not necessarily the Enterprise.
Moving forward to today and we’ve seen another evolution. The latest business-led technology changes are Cloud and BYOD. Both have followed exactly the same process as Windows & Unix adoption, with the business leading the way and central IT following. Now there’s even more complication. Both customers and internal users want access via their own devices. The datacentre is exposed like never before, completely changing the risk profile. IT services can be delivered on or off-premises through the use of IaaS, PaaS or SaaS providers and we’re putting more of our trust in the network guys (lord help us).
So is the Enterprise ready?
Cloud is well on the way through Gartner’s Hype Cycle. However there are still many things Enterprise IT has to reconcile before Cloud is widely adopted. The enclosed data centre allowed IT to understand and manage risk because everything was under their control. As technology moves outside that protective sphere there’s a natural tendency to be nervous of the consequences. The risk profile changes – for example the serious consideration that has to be given to networking, firewall configuration, encryption and data protection means there is a shift in the areas that are key to delivering cloud services. It’s not a case that those areas weren’t important before, but they are simply more important now.
Then there’s cost; the whole financial model of Cloud brings a different paradigm to how technology is acquired and billed for. Many organisations have no idea how what their own internal IT costs. Even if they do understand it at the empirical level, many won’t be able to translate this into a monthly or per transaction figure. This makes understanding the cost/benefit of cloud a challenge, one that’s perhaps easier to avoid than tackle head-on.
Is Cloud Ready For The Enterprise?
Cloud offerings are pretty well evolved, however there are some subtle differences in approach in and out of the cloud. Enterprise design was always focused on expensive, highly reliable hardware running single applications. Clustering was used for availability (as was remote replication) but the underlying premise of design is that the hardware is reliable enough not to have to build redundancy into the application. Time is spent architecting the best, most resilient infrastructure (the available) money will buy. Cloud is different; it is usually implemented on lower cost commodity hardware, purely to make the economics work. Think of storage; many organisations deploy expensive enterprise arrays from the three-letter vendors. This wouldn’t be cost effective in cloud deployments.
So, to quote a cliche, there has to be “design for failure” built into the applications for cloud design, but essentially, cloud is ready and willing to accept Enterprise applications. IT continues to evolve into ever more exciting and challenging ways.
The attached graph is also available as PDF. LB_Cloud_Enterprise Evolution
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