As 2011 begins to wind down, we can look back on the progress in the cloud sector made over the last 11 months with a lot of pride. The market stepped significantly forward with big gains in adoption by leaders Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Rackspace, significant growth in the use of clouds for big data, training, test and development, the creation of landmark new services and the dawning of the App-internet era.
Cloud technologies matured nearly across the board as did transparency, security and best practice use and adoption. But there’s much more growth ahead as the cloud is no longer a toddler but has entered the awkward teenage years. And much as found in human development the cloud is now beginning to fight for its own identity, independence and place in society.
The next few years will be a painful period of rebellion, defiance, exploration, experimentation and undoubtedly explosive creativity. While many of us would prefer our kids go from the cute pre-teen period straight to adulthood, we don’t become who we are without surviving the teenage years. For infrastructure & operations professionals, charged with bringing predictability to our company’s use of IT, this coming era of cloud computing will push us well outside of our comfort zone.
We’ve all lived through market transitions like this one before but probably have forgotten that we were teens when the technologies we helped cement in place during that year were too, Cloud cumputing won’t play out exactly like client-server or the internet era did, but there are strong similarities and the early years were the most painful. To that aim, it’s time to put our soothsayer’s hat back on and read the tarot for cloud in 2012. Here is what we expect over the next year and what you as the I&O parent should do about it.
1. Shadow IT enters the light – deal with it. Tell me if this sounds familiar. A business leader invests in a new technology without the involvement of the IT team. He builds upon this investment creating new workflows, services and capabilities that become, he thinks, integral to doing business. Then the technology in question falls over. A frantic call comes in to the help desk that IT needs to take over the management and support of this “critical” application. Get ready for a lot more of this in 2012. Several I&O teams got this wakeup call in April 2011 when AWS had its well-publicised outage. While the I&O parent wanted to hold up this event and say, “See, I told you these services weren’t mature,” the developers response was, “well I ain’t moving.” You can get ready for this by proactively engaging your developers and getting your hands dirty with these cloud services. Do it today.
2. The uncool attempting to be cool – not cool. As a teen, you know it when you see it. Sadly many a marketer continues to try and latch onto a rebellious movement without the rebellion and just looks stupid. We have a name for this in the cloud market – cloudwashing. And sadly we’ve let more companies and I&O teams get away with this than we should. Expect that to stop in 2012 as the early adopters of cloud computing have enough experience now to see through these guises. In 2012, if your so-called cloud services aren’t highly standardised and automated capabilities delivering economies of scale, autonomy to the client and flexible cost control you will become uncool. And in business that means unprofitable. Don't let your private cloud efforts be uncool.
3. A risky idea lands a big fish in jail. It’s a classic storyline that you can find any night on the Lifeteime television network. A teen rebelling to show his independence pushes the limits going too far and ending up afoul of authority. Sadly, it’s the so-called good kids who draw the mist attention when this happens. In 2012 we can almost count on the same playing out in the enterprise market. The most likely place will be an empowered business leader running afoul of compliancy laws which continue to evolve in arrears of technology advancement. But that excuse won’t be a quality defense. You can prevent the two a.m. trip to bail out your empowered employees by getting in front of the issue through education and best practice sharing. Publish a cloud use policy today that states how your company can best use these new technologies and write it using language that shows how to do it safely and encourages collaboration. Telling your teens don’t do cloud will just encourage misuse.
4. Conservative leaders ban the cloud as unhealthy. Hollywood has taught us that you can't ban dancing in rural Texas but still conservative governments try. The reasoning is always the same – we are taking this action to protect our citizens and the community. While we don’t expect to see anyone try to outlaw cloud computing there’s already legislation underway in several countries to ban the use of cloud services not resident within that country. The US Patriot Act had an initial chilling effect on international companies using cloud but led to strong overseas expansion in 2011. As the recession slides on even the most successful cloud companies won’t be able to build data centres to bring their services into every country and if your legislators thinks this means jobs then your country could be next. If your politicians start acting this way, make your voice heard. The internet knows no bounds and neither should the cloud.
5. The channel will face the music – reselling isn't good enough anymore. For years I have been telling the value-added reseller market that they need to move away from revenue dependence on the resell of goods and services. Many have listened and now garner more revenue from consulting and unique intellectual property. Those who haven’t will get a serious wake-up call in 2012 – the cloud doesn’t need you. Cloud services are a direct-sell business and standardised, internet-resident services don’t need local relationships to reach their customers. There’s nothing to install, customisation is minimal and margins are thin and volume-based. For the channel to survive it must add value around cloud services and there’s plenty of opportunity to go around. As we’ve stated many times, while cloud services are standardised how each company uses them is not and that’s where all the opportunity lies. Just as I&O plays a role in supplementing the services provided by the cloud the channel needs to provide expertise that’s hard to find (and hire) in house.
6. Cloud cred will matter. As we enter 2012 there are far more job openings for cloud experts than there are qualified candidates to fill them and in 2012 this will become perhaps the biggest market growth inhibitor. And the hiring process is rapidly becoming untenable as hiring managers often don’t know what to look for and candidates are listing cloud experience on their resumes that they can’t actually back up. Businesses needs signs of credibility and candidates need true training to fill this gap. HP and EMC have seized on this issue in Q4 both launching cloud training and certification programs for I&O professionals. A handful of universities have added cloud development courses to their engineering schools. In 2012, get ready for an explosion in this market. But in the meantime, if you have true cloud credibility you will find other ways of telling the world.
7. Cloud battles will showcase talent and advance best practices. You won’t have to go to 8Mile to see it, but you won’t find it at CloudExpo either. Developers and operations professionals who are pushing the cloud limits are starting to show off their skills to their peers but those who labor for brand names can’t do it in the public light, so they are finding other ways to showcase their skills. For every official corporate cloud project there is today, there are two to three innovative start-up or test and development projects being built by the same people. Some of these are simply showcases for their skills that can be shared with friends, built upon or attacked to make them better. They are often used as a test bed to drive enhancements to the corporate effort. But increasingly these micro-efforts are being used to backup claims on a resume or take its place. The biggest users of cloud computing are in the audience for these efforts and when they find one that is legit, the designer quickly finds a job offer in their in-box. These showcases are being privately shared today and every talented cloud developer is looking to get noticed for their props. You can fuel this by sponsoring this activity in a hosted private cloud or within your public cloud tenancy. AWS encourages it with its free-for-a-year very small VMs. The events market can fuel these efforts by creating unconferences for this purpose. Look for the first of these in 2012.
8. Monkeys will go legit. Skateboarding used to be menacing to pedestrians and building managers until they built skate parks. Now Joe Citizen is safe to walk around and top skateboarders make millions. In the last several years, Netflix decided that disruptive behavior like this was a good thing and started menacing its developers with what it calls Chaos Monkeys, evil code crashers that invade its core services and take them down. These autobots got their thrill from goofy-footing over API calls, crashing executables and taking threads for thrill rides through endless loops. Its monkeys taught developers to code around the monkeys and the result was better code, higher uptime and leaner services. In the cloud, services are built over commodity infrastructure that is not only less reliable but expected to fail. If your code can’t handle this, it doesn’t belong in the skate park. In 2012, expect to see monkeys become a true part of the development process for cloud-targeted applications. Open source and at least one commercial monkey suite will come to market making all of us better and as a result...
9. Your company will survive a major cloud outage. It happens to every cloud service. The sooner you learn to deal with cloud outages the better off you will be. If you have seen any Jackass movie you know that young people seem to be able to withstand an incredible amount of punishment. Put us old-line parents through the same and we might not come out of the hospital. Applications sadly hold to this metaphor. Pick up a traditional application from your data center and move it, unchanged to the cloud, and you are simply asking for trouble. This is why the cloud is dominated by new applications today. As you look to migrate more of your application portfolio to the cloud you will have to transition these applications to the new architecture, preparing them to survive component failures, service outages and "noisy neighbours." As you gain experience with this you will start to identify the patterns of design and replication that get you past these annoyances. For every company that went down in the cloud last year there were a third as many who didn’t. Next year, that surviving company will be you. That’s when you will know you can invest more in the cloud. Which will mean…
10. You will finally have to budget for public cloud spend. And this won’t be easy. Budgeting for your teen is a ridiculous challenge as you have to support their seemingly fickle swings between interests (basketball one day, band the next, a burgeoning rap career, then YouTube reality superstar after that) and the long term costs of college and when they graduate and come home to live with you for ten more years. Budgeting for cloud is just as challenging and requires I&O professionals to get comfortable with change. In IT we have had it easy thus far, as nearly every piece of technology could be bought outright or contracted long term – three to five years with a healthy discount for loyalty. Clouds are pay per use platforms and that’s a good thing as you don’t want to lock in your commitments to them because the use patterns will change over time. Long term, yes, you will be facing on-going cloud consumption bills and you can count on them being higher than you’d like. Right now, you can minimise costs by embracing cloud economics and working with your developers and business units to understand the cost models and how to leverage them most cost effectively. To do this, you have to engage with them on how they are using the cloud today, and through direct hands-on experience yourself, guide them on how to make better use of the cloud without incurring undo expenses.
While the idea of corporate IT being invaded by a bunch of teens may sound daunting remember that you once were one yourself; as were the technologies you take for granted today. Think back on how you survived then and making the most of cloud in 2012 will become clear and a lot less scary.
James Staten is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He serves infrastructure and operations professionals. Click here to read more and subscribe to James Staten's blog at Forrester Research.