Nick Hardiman considers the results, so far, of the cloud revolution in IT. What are the main benefits, and what are the accompanying problems?
Cloud computing has been around for years now and has brought benefits that never used to exist. For instance, today's startups don't necessarily have to invest in a room full of computers to power their IT. The startup shopping list no longer has to include the hardware the old startup was burdened with. Has the cloud revolution borne fruit for the enterprise?
The enterprise cloud isn't the only digital revolution around at the moment.
The C2C revolution came before the cloud. The new C2C (Consumer to Consumer) sites opened up markets that the old retail world did not. Freecycle opens up donation of second hand goods, shutterstock connects photographers with businesses, and Paypal underpins tiny transactions.
The revolution for networking nerds is IPv6. The new IPv6 system leaves behind some procedures that just did not work very well. For instance, the subnet masks from IPv4 days will die off, and network administrators of the future will only have to learn CIDR notation (255.0.0.0 is oldskool, /8 is newskool). IPv6 is part of the new digital revolution that will bring us Internet v2.
And what about the money? The new bitcoin money system leaves behind the old central bank power over currency. There is no fiscal cliff in the bitcoin world.
Fruits of the cloud revolution
The migration from a few big on-premise machines to a stack of cloud machines forces the owner to leave behind the legacy systems.
This has business administration benefits such as freeing up budget. The need to spend half the money keeping old systems running is gone. New project management, using agile methods and continual delivery, is not weighed down with all the artifacts of the old waterfall method. The old style of project management, with its linear approach and looming deadline, does not fit well with cloud computing,
One of the great things for system administrators is the rise of the automation utility. Sysadmins can leave behind repetitive manual tasks. Manual file copying - which is tedious and error-prone - only works on a small scale A sysadmin can build a dozen servers with manual processes, but the end result would probably end up with a dozen servers that are all slightly different - each one has its little quirks caused by configuration typos, varying permissions, or missed updates. Scale this number out with a requirement to build a thousand servers in a week and the need for automation becomes obvious. Manual methods cannot work at cloud scale.
Designers, with their specialist art applications and disk-chewing images, can spend less time tied to one computer updating their apps and more time fulfilling crazy client briefs. Developers, the flip side of the same specialist coin, want to be free to take the most direct route to their programming tools.
Cloud sprawl is a bad apple
Digital revolutions do have a price. The new social media system gave us online communities, and we paid with our privacy. The new digital music system removed the scarcity of the old system. Supply cannot be throttled to push up prices, despite the best DRM efforts. We were all forced to be lawyers or pirates by the digital music war.
The price of cloud computing is the rise of cloud sprawl, sucking the resources from organizations. Cloud sprawl is the latest iteration of rampant IT growth that was really started with Microsoft Windows and commodity computing. Companies went from managing dozens of Windows machines to hundreds and thousands. The empowerment of business units to book their own IT, combined with the growth of on-demand, self-service, and highly scalable computing services leads to cloud sprawl (I actually prefer David Linthicum's phrase "rogue clouds", which makes me imagine they are roaming the countryside causing grief).
Cloud sprawl happens because of the inability of IT to meet teams' needs. Can a team instantly ease its pain by booking a cloud service? If they can sign up - the organization has updated its integration strategy to allow departments to book external services - then it will. The department leader activates a service instantly and the team exploit it. Business flows again, the employees are relieved - it's all good. For a while.
The finance department are confused by the whopping bill that arrives. The security team no longer meet the standards the auditors are demanding. The procurement guys have lost control of the supplier portfolio. The help desk can't handle the calls they receive.
So far the cloud revolution has provided a bushel of fruit and a few bad apples. It's early days in the cloud industry, so there's plenty more quantity, quality and variety to come.