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Will cultural pushback kill private clouds?

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For years, we’ve heard that cultural hurdles within large enterprises are a big problem for the adoption of public cloud computing. That’s why, conventional wisdom suggests, private clouds will be far more popular within those types of companies, because it lets them get the business benefits without having to bend on issues such as security. But if a recent blog post by Gartner analyst Lydia Leong is telling, it looks as if cultural hurdles are also impeding private cloud adoption — at least when it comes to doing it right.

The gist of Leong’s post is that companies want to build internal IT operations like those at Amazon (s amzn), Rackspace (s rax) and Facebook, but they don’t want to make the organizational changes necessary to actually do it. Cloud providers and others operating at webscale don’t typically have top-heavy management structures, but, rather, have flatter IT organizations where managers are replaced by team leaders who also play critical roles in (gasp!) writing code and maintaining systems. And that, says Leong, doesn’t sit well with some of her clients.

To a degree, their concerns are fair enough. Some of the folks responsible for deciding to build a private-cloud infrastructure and then funding it don’t want to lose their jobs. Cloud computing naturally ushers in new job descriptions such as devops, and it almost certainly means that decisionmakers won’t sit in ivory towers free from IDEs and servers. Others, Leong notes, don’t want to lose the ability to attract talent by eliminating the clear management hierarchy that promises promotions up the ladder.

But what do these attitudes mean for the growing number of private cloud deployments? That companies are deploying cloud computing software but not using it to its full potential because they won’t make the necessary organizational changes? It’s troubling if that’s the case, because it means private cloud computing looks more like a wasted opportunity than an IT revolution. It looks a lot more like Virtualization 2.o than Amazon (s amzn) Web Services. Provisioning resources might be a smoother process, and maybe application development is easier, but IT departments themselves are still inflexible and inefficient.

What everyone loves about companies such as Google and Amazon, though, is that they’re able to deliver quality services while running highly agile, automated and innovative operations themselves. My colleague Stacey Higginbotham recently wrote about Google’s approach of granting much power to IT generalists that can work across divisions to ensure the efforts of various teams are aligned and will result in a better system.

Even if they accept that cloud computing is an application-centric operations model as James Urquhart recently explained, and implement fairly strict standards for new applications development, as Leong suggests, IT managers eventually have to learn to get out of the way. CEOs are expecting a lot more from IT departments, and having layer upon layer of bureaucracy isn’t going to help them deliver.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M.

11 Responses to “Will cultural pushback kill private clouds?”

  1. mike dvorkin

    The problem is actually much deeper. A lot of these organizations simply can’t afford building suitable automated environments as: 1. it is a very expensive experiment that requires highly skilled engineering 2. there’s no 3rd party solution that makes any operational or economical sense. 3. the concept of private Amazon-like environment offers scale, but does not solve the problem of automation. You have to put some heavy stuff on top.

    • Leon Katsnelson

      Building automated environments for private clouds along the lines of Amazon EC2 is not mission impossible anymore. There are several vendors that do a really good job of it. is a good example. Two great examples of large scale private clouds build with RightScale are Zynga and AMDOCS. I don’t work for RightScale nor do I have any financial interest in the company. We have been using for several years now and while it is not all roses, I definitely do believe that the tools are there to build top notch private cloud if the desire is there. And the “desire” is the true stumbling block in my opinion. By and large, traditional IT teams are very resistant to change. I see it every day across a wide range of companies.

      • mike dvorkin

        You can does not imply that you want to. And to want, it has to make sense. What I am implying above is that “Building automated environments for private clouds along the lines of Amazon EC2” with Rightscale sitting on top would _NOT_ provide traditional enterprises sufficient utility. In a way, you are right, they don’t want this.

  2. Brandon Allgood

    At Numerate (Data Driven Drug Design), we liken the acceptance of the public cloud to the acceptance of out sourcing chemistry in the pharma industry back in the 90s. There were tons of cultural reasons for push back, but ultimately the economics of it won out. Companies either needed to start doing or they got left behind financially. Now no one thinks twice about out sourcing chemistry. The cloud is really just an outsourcing of IT infrastructure and companies that don’t accept and use the cloud will be crushed by companies that do. Private clouds also do not have the main benefits of the public cloud. A private cloud will never have the elasticity or cost savings that a public cloud will have.