Peter ffoulkes, Part 2: Effective change management in cloud adoption

451 Research has released its semi-annual TheInfoPro report on cloud computing. In the second part of the interview, analyst Peter ffoulkes speaks with TechRepublic about effective change management in cloud adoption and the companies that are attracting attention among survey respondents.

TheInfoPro, a service of 451 Research, has released its semi-annual report on cloud computing, which surveyed 100 IT professionals from February through May of 2013. Peter ffoulkes, TheInfoPro's Research Director for Cloud Computing, spoke with TechRepublic about the non-IT roadblocks discussed in the report. In this second part of the interview, he talk about how companies need effective change management during cloud adoption, and also about the vendors that have excited and attracted participants in the survey.

Key takeaways:

  • Technology problems tend to get solved, but people need to be guided through a process of change
  • The people and cycles needed to vet public cloud providers is slowing down adoption
  • What people really want is to do their jobs well. They need time to learn new things
  • One successful approach to cloud adoption: make small, continuous changes, so staff members can adapt
  • VMware CEO: If all enterprise applications go to Amazon, we all lose
  • The open source nature and maneuverability of OpenStack has respondents' attention, and addresses concerns about vendor lock-in
  • 451 Research uses the word “exciting” in its surveys to assess mindshare

TechRepublic: Having completed the report, do any of the roadblocks, apart from the response rates, stand out as particularly challenging at this time?

Peter ffoulkes: The one that I would say, as we’ve highlighted people and processes, it’s really change management. Because technology problems tend to get solved, and as the technology gets more sophisticated, which it is doing, those technology problems diminish. Two years from now we’ll have a better set of software, a better set of tools. Therefore, technology and maturity will become less of an issue. People will have more of a chance to be familiar with it.

The other thing is that typically with a technology problem once you’ve solved it, it stays solved. But with people, people leave the company, new people join the company with new ideas, people start out trusting something and then they stop trusting something. And so “people things” are hard, and that’s really the big issue. How do you get people to agree and stay in alignment? It’s much harder to get people to agree than it is to solve technology problems.

Security concerns restrict or eliminate some potential cloud candidates. At this point, the due diligence required to vet public cloud security posture isn’t something we have the cycles for. The issue there being, I’m responsible for implementing security, I need to have certain assurances in place so that I can trust whichever public cloud provider I am to work with. It takes time to go through all of their offerings and ask, do these meet the minimum requirement or not? And this guy is basically saying, I don’t have the time, the people and cycles to do that. It’s slowing us down.

TechRepublic: Based on your research, does there seem to be a difference in perception of cloud issues between the C-suite and the IT department? You mentioned earlier that IT personnel were afraid of losing their jobs.

Peter ffoulkes: No, I mentioned it because people raised it and I think it’s a minor issue. And the end of the day, businesses need to change. The world is changing, businesses need to adapt. And if the staff aren’t willing to adapt, they’ll probably stop being staff and they’ll get somebody else. But clearly human beings are often resistant to change. So, it slows things down.

Basic human emotion—it just needs to be overcome. It’s part of the adaptation process. We’ve been seeing this in technology for a long period of time. And when change comes along, yes people are concerned about their jobs. But what they really want is to be able to do their job well. Therefore, if it’s something new they have to learn about it, they have to test it, and learn to trust it.

And until they’ve got to that point, they push back. And once again, it’s a human change management problem.

A guy that participates in our surveys, in the consumer and retail business, and has one the most advanced cloud systems that I am aware of, years ahead of the majority. His philosophy is: I change a little thing every day. If you change everything at once, you get too much pushback and it unhooks you. But if you change a little bit on regular basis, then people adapt to it. You make small changes, but you make them all the time.

So he’s got a very good technique for managing it through the system. Don’t give people more than they can swallow or else they choke.

But not all organizations do that. Some of them come with a big staff and say, right, we’re doing this—bang! And that will cause a disruption. People dig in their heels and find ways of making it not work.

TechRepublic: The press release mentions some big cloud market players, like Microsoft, VMware and Amazon, as well as OpenStack, which appears to be gaining market traction. In your interviews, is there anything that stands out regarding what respondents are saying about OpenStack?

Peter ffoulkes: Where this comes from, is that we have a question we ask—it’s a very open-ended approach to this. We don’t try and bias the survey by suggesting things to people. The question is: what, if any, cloud computing-related vendors, technologies, or industry initiatives do you find exciting?

We kept it very open, because there are so many things going on. The ones that topped the answers were, essentially, three very well-established companies: Microsoft, VMware, and They were mentioned by 29 percent, 25 percent, and 24 percent of people, respectively.

Microsoft with Windows Server is very well-established, clearly is widely-used by a large number of people for business-critical things, and will continue to be so. Windows Server is not under threat, on the server side. They’re going like gangbusters.

Secondly, they’ve had their Azure cloud service for quite a long period of time. And, for a lot of people that are using Windows-based applications, Microsoft has been doing a lot of good work to not only have a service-infrastructure platform, and good management tools, but also bringing on those platform-based services, like Office 365.

There are a lot of people using that, and for anybody that works in the Windows environment, a Microsoft cloud service is a very easy, natural extension to what they do internally, and sometimes makes very good economical sense. So people that are in the Microsoft environment like what they see, in terms of extending the opportunities available to them.

VMware is a little bit different. There’s a lot changing in the VMware world, but VMware is very much the dominant player in the virtualization space, server virtualization. And as such, it is still regarded as the technology leader. Microsoft has been catching up, especially with the Windows Server 2012, and the Hyper-V that’s associated with that. And we’re definitely expecting greater adoption of that, especially in the Windows application areas. But VMware is still the dominant player in that marketplace.

And that also means that as people are moving through their virtualization journey, they’re moving beyond just basic virtualization into managed virtualized systems, and also to cloud-based systems. And VMware is moving forward a with whole new set of offerings with increased focus, beyond just basic virtualization into the management of production-virtualized environments which are sort of a precursor to going to cloud.

And also, with their vCloud suite of offerings, most of the focus of the discussion at VMworld in San Francisco recently was about how VMware is improving and adding more and more into that environment.

VMware is essentially like Windows, which is a de facto standard but it’s still a proprietary environment. VMware is much the same thing. And a lot of companies have a lot of expertise in VMware environments. So if they’re looking at cloud, naturally if they’re a VMware user they’re going to look at VMware’s cloud offerings.

And what's particularly interesting at the moment is that VMware, under Pat Gelsinger's leadership, has really upped the ante to say we’ve got to compete with Amazon. One of the things he said at the partner conference earlier in the year is that if all the enterprise applications go to Amazon, we all lose. So VMware is very strongly building a community of providers, who offer public cloud services, based on VMware technology.

And once again, that will make it very easy for people who use VMware as the basis for their virtualized data center to use the same tools and find an external cloud provider, because that is a smooth transition.

Amazon, on the other hand, is one of the very early and well-established players in the public cloud marketplace, and it has a fair amount of invention because of that presence. However, it tends to be a little more obscure in terms of letting people see what’s going on underneath the hood of the Amazon environment. Although they’re offering a lot of good services, a lot of people are saying, I need more visibility.

But there are lots of companies offering all sorts of Amazon services. Certainly for testing and development it’s very good. We’re beginning to see things like the FinQloud stuff coming on. Amazon is expanding the specialized range of its cloud computing offerings.

So, once again, lots of people look at Amazon and say, they’re relatively inexpensive, and they offer a pretty good service. And as long as it’s compatible with all of my requirements, then it looks like an attractive proposition.

All three of those companies are good, but they’re all also single-vendor-driven initiatives that are essentially proprietary. And a lot of people don’t want something where they feel like they could be locked in with a single vendor.

What we’ve seen is that the open source initiative, multi-vendor initiative OpenStack has been gaining a lot of momentum. And it is backed of course by major vendors like IBM, HP, Cisco, Rackspace and whole list of others. The OpenStack initiative is offering a little bit more visibility and participation. And basically in the same way that Linux became popular—an open source, Unix-like operation on x86—OpenStack at the cloud level is a platform that people could look at and have that same kind of open source security, from a business perspective.

And it’s not only vendors that contribute to the OpenStack process. End users can as well. If they want a particular function, they can develop it, submit it to the open source community, and have it adopted as part of the main theme of OpenStack, which suddenly means that their particular functional requirements can be available as an IBM-based OpenStack offering, or a Cisco-based OpenStack offering, or Rackspace or whatever. That effectively nullifies the risk of vendor lock-in.

And secondly, with a lot of major vendors now backing OpenStack, putting production environments unto OpenStack, we’re beginning to get improvement out as a rapidly developing, rapidly adopted, stable environment, with people like Comcast, Best Buy and others, doing things on top of OpenStack.

So people are looking at that, saying wow, this should give me a lot of choice. It gives the vendor protection, and it’s one environment. Though it’s certainly not true that you would necessarily be able to quickly change from OpenStack environment to another, it would be relatively straight-forward to do so because it’s a common environment. And you should be able to hire people with OpenStack expertise.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with OpenStack in the next couple of years. But as that momentum continues it’s currently looking very promising. And a lot of our respondents are looking at it and saying, I’m going to look and investigate this.

TechRepublic: Why did 451 Research choose the word “exciting” for that question in its survey? You don’t see that very often in IT.

Peter ffoulkes: (laughs) Right—it is deliberately chosen. In a lot of cases, we’re dealing with people and saying, what vendors do you have in use? Who might you be considering? And you’re right, those things are not often exciting, the firms are risk-averse, they’ve done the due diligence, and now they’ve got in place what they need, they’re relying on what they think they’ll be able to trust and so on.

What we’re trying to do in these surveys is not measure market share. We are trying to look at what the future trends are. It’s really mindshare. And so one of the ways we can get a bit of an indication of what’s likely to happen is to ask professionals, what has caught your imagination in the last 12 months? What have you seen that actually excites you? Whether you think you’re going to use it or not, what has grabbed your attention?

So that’s the reason for using the word “exciting.” And that’s to get around the obstacle that you raised, that a lot of stuff in IT really isn’t exciting. What motivates you to look at something? If something has caught your attention, you’re probably going to look at it.

TechRepublic readers can visit the 451 Research company site to learn more about its cloud computing research.