Cloud

The public cloud just got a new poster child

GE is moving 90% of its workloads to the public cloud, and it's nowhere near done.

GE cloud computing

Forget Netflix. While Amazon has been holding up the media giant for years as an example, Netflix never resonated with mainstream enterprises. Most companies simply aren't ready to unleash chaos monkeys on their infrastructure.

But GE? That's a different story.

In a surprisingly candid and punchy interview with InfoWorld, Chris Drumgoole, GE's chief operations officer of Information Technology, dissed private clouds as merely "well-orchestrated virtualization" and declared GE will reduce its data center assets by 90% in favor of the public cloud. Is GE the new poster child for the public cloud?

Cloud is the new normal

Remember when public cloud was only suitable for development and test workloads? You don't have to think back very far: there are plenty of vendors that still try to sell that story.

The problem is that it's not true and hasn't been for some time.

Just ask Gartner analyst Lydia Leong, who noted, "Out of ~20 government participants at my Gartner [Symposium] roundtable, only one hadn't begun to use cloud," which represents a "Major change from last year." If the government is going into the cloud, everyone is.

And not just any cloud, but public cloud. Just five years ago, companies were talking about moving to cloud computing, but "cloud" meant "private, controlled, risk-free" cloud. Today, more companies recognize the difficulty inherent in private cloud computing, even despite owning a data center looking cost effective on paper.

As Redmonk analyst Steven O'Grady describes it:

"In almost every case, a physical server will outperform the virtual equivalent offered up by public clouds. And yet the adoption of public cloud has been sufficient to force Dell to go private, IBM to decommit from the x86 server market entirely and HP to try and charge for firmware upgrades. This is the power of convenience. Much like the camera you have with you being better than the high-end SLR too heavy to carry around, developers — the new kingmakers within the enterprise — are heavily advantaging time to productivity when it comes to technology selection."

If the goal is to unleash developer productivity, renaming internal IT resources "cloud" doesn't really solve anything.

The new face of public cloud

Which brings us to GE, the multinational firm founded in 1878. For GE to use public cloud resources isn't all that ground-breaking. After all, whether it has known it or not, its developers have almost certainly been using the cloud to route around IT for years.

But to commit to the public cloud without reservation? That's big.

Yet that's exactly what Drumgoole does in his interview with Infoworld's Eric Knorr, echoing Amazon's own belief that private cloud isn't cloud at all:

"I'm not a big fan of using the word 'internal' cloud, because internal is really, in my opinion, well-orchestrated virtualization that people are calling cloud for marketing purposes. But as an operating model, yes. We have internal platforms that drive those same cloudlike behaviors. We have what EMC or one of those guys would call a private cloud when they're selling you one.

"But our vision is: We think that that's a stopgap. We think it's a temporary solution. Frankly, we think even the hybrid cloud is really a temporary solution. I think there could be some good debates over how long you mean when you say 'temporary.' But in our world, we see no reason why everything except the rarest of apps should not end up in a multitenanted environment in the fullness of time."

This would be an interesting statement from a new-school Netflix. But it's revolutionary coming from old-economy GE.

Nor is it GE that really holds it back from moving its workloads to the cloud. Drumgoole states that "We're big fans of the idea that everything ends up in the public cloud utility model eventually." However, he's also quick to point out that "eventually" can take a long time if government regulations continue to inhibit progress.

Even so, the plan is to shift 90% of the company's workloads to the public cloud, spread between Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and more. Despite this, Drumgoole still says GE is "still nowhere even close to where we think the future lies."

Which suggests it's high time for your organization to stop kicking the tires on running mission critical applications in the cloud and set your developers free.

About

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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