People underestimate how much cloud providers present a challenge to IT as it's practiced today in most organizations. A couple of news stories brought home this point. They illustrate the existential threat that cloud computing and its practices present to corporate IT groups.
The first item that came across my desk was a blog entry about AOL and how it has built a completely unmanned data center. The writer noted that he came to AOL relatively recently and was tasked with streamlining its data centers. He says, "It was during this process that I came to realize that our particular legacy challenge, while at 'Internet' scale, was more closely related to the challenges of most corporate or government environments than the biggest Internet players."
The writer continues to say that, despite its early "King of the Internet" position, AOL's collection of hundreds of bespoke, inconsistently configured and implemented systems made it very similar to most enterprise environments: manually administered, high cost and difficult to change.
The piece then goes on to describe how AOL restructured its entire infrastructure, and more importantly, its supporting tools and processes, to create a lights-out, completely automated deployment environment. No one needs to enter the data center to provision machines, configure networks, run cables, etc.
The writer describes how a key piece of the automation systems is a CMDB (configuration management database), which allows quick, dynamic provisioning of resources. How quick and dynamic? Virtual machines in eight seconds. Injection of application and middleware software packages in another eight seconds. Reconfiguration to move into production? Sixty seconds.
AOL's story, stripped to its basics, is that of an organization applying today's cloud-inspired IT management best practices to achieve highly scalable, extremely cost-efficient computing environments.
The next day, I came across another blog post written by an enterprise IT professional. In it, he pooh-poohed the advantage and serviceability of automated IT tools. He posited that, for most organizations, a solution of human computing (meaning smart, experienced, people) is the right way to achieve a consistent, efficient infrastructure.
I often come across people who denigrate cloud computing. They point out systems that require careful hand tuning to achieve acceptable performance.
Database configuration in production ERP environments is commonly cited as an example of why cloud computing automation isn't sufficient. The suggested conclusion is that IT organizations should continue existing practices because they ensure that finicky applications requiring trial-and-error optimization by experienced professionals can be managed properly.
A third event illustrating the existential threat that cloud computing poses to IT came about as a result of Apple's release of the new iPhone 4S and the accompanying iCloud. Apple includes 5 GB of free storage to let customers manage photos, videos, etc. Seeing an opportunity to piggyback on this high profile event, box.net announced that it would make available to any iPhone or iPad user 50 GB of free storage.
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