A few weeks ago, ZDNet and TechRepublic released their first-ever U.S. IT Priorities report, containing data aggregated from a series of questions posed to IT professionals from companies of all types and sizes. The report contains several interesting bits of information, such as the fact that most budgets are flat or only slightly growing, and it also contains information that may seem intuitive - such as the fact that most companies would prefer to be able to get rid of their legacy systems and start over - but that is now validated in a quantitative way.
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the findings in the report from a cloud computing perspective. Not only to look at the data that is related to the cloud, but also to try and see how some of the trends highlighted tie in with the value proposition of cloud computing, and even how they may in the future affect or be affected by the cloud market.
Priorities and the cloud
The leading priority for companies of all sizes in the report was to “improve business processes and efficiency”. While this may seem the obvious priority for any IT department, since it describes the very goal of IT in an organization, the very fact that it is in this list may be an indication of how hard it is to actually accomplish this goal. Cloud computing can relate directly to this goal: by using cloud infrastructure - even private clouds - IT can deliver the infrastructure needs of business users faster and, at the same time, optimize corporate resource usage, fulfilling both process and efficiency improvements. The same goes for other cloud layers. Cloud software, for instance, can usually be deployed faster than traditional software, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced costs.
Another leading priority, related to improving Data Mining and Business Intelligence for decision support, can also receive a great positive impact from cloud tools. A large part of the problem related with data mining and business intelligence capabilities are the amount of computing resources that these activities require. They usually involve complex queries that can tax a system and cause problems for everyone else. The cloud offers several ways to reduce this impact:
- First, companies can adopt cloud servers, be they public or private, for the execution of data mining tasks. They would spin up a server, run whatever data processing job is required, fetch the results and bring the server down, greatly reducing the investment in infrastructure.
- Second, companies can leverage the available big data processing tools - any one of the several MapReduce frameworks out there - to process their own data, regardless of volume or size. Once again, this could bring down costs while improving responsiveness.
Concerns and the cloud
Interestingly enough, the list of key IT concerns reads like a study on the pros and cons of cloud computing. On top of the list come “security concerns”. While most IT security concerns are related to securing companies’ networks, any move to the cloud must take this into account. If companies have trouble to secure their own networks, how can they trust someone else to do this properly for them? In second place comes the notion of “optimizing and controlling costs”. This is one of the key propositions of the cloud: by sharing resources, overall usage can be optimized and costs can be better managed. The third spot goes to “improving service responsiveness”. Once again, one of the key concerns when companies are moving to the cloud is the service level agreement: who is going to be responsible if the service goes down? How can I make sure that I will have excellent uptime?
The list goes on, with some points that can be seen as “pro-cloud”:
- outdated infrastructure
- datacenter consolidation
- deploying and delivering applications
Others issues can be seen as “anti-cloud”:
- business continuity
- meeting regulatory compliance
- reduced budgets.
This duality translates directly to the everyday discussions about cloud computing. Cloud vendors sell themselves by saying they will bring reduced and optimized costs, faster deployment time, and better uptime, and they seek certifications to reduce the other concerns, such as security and business continuity.
While the cloud can help address several of the top priorities listed by IT professionals, there are still several key concerns that may slow its adoption by companies, especially large ones. In addition to the security concerns that are common to all companies regardless of size, large companies have the added burden of supporting legacy systems, which reduces available budget. These budget reductions, in turn, may lead to less experimentation with new technologies - such as cloud computing - and a slower adoption rate.
Recognizing and understanding these concerns and the weight they carry in organizations of different sizes and in different industries can help cloud providers better tailor their solutions to fit specific needs. At the same time, it is interesting for companies in different sectors and with different sizes to be able to compare their priorities and concerns with the rest of the market. The report is very interesting - and it’s free - so I recommend anyone interested in learning more about it to download it and take a look.