There seems to be this almost naïve assumption out there that once “the cloud” is built everything in the computing world will be better. While I certainly agree with that to a point – cloud computing and cloud storage technologies stand to solve some very thorny problems within IT – there is one question that companies seem to be turning a blind eye to: “Who owns the cloud?”
This came into focus this past week when I was talking to a client representative from a value added reseller (VAR) that provides storage product and services a number of nationally known companies. While business has been extremely good for his company in recent months, I could sense he was literally shaking his head on the other end of the phone as he was talking to me.
He is currently dealing with one client that is buying goo-gobs of storage from his company which theoretically should thrill him. But having known this individual for a long period of time, he is not just looking to make another sale or sell more. He wants his clients to utilize and get value from the products and services his company provides and, in this particular case, he does not see it. In fact, he sees this company wasting them.
He is aware of a number of instances where they are buying net new storage and only getting 10% utilization rates on that storage. This is not because his client is awash in money or can afford to waste these resources. They cannot. Rather it seems to him that purchasing authority and the ability to question buying decisions has been stripped from the company’s Procurement department and turned over almost entirely to the IT department.
Now this might seem like a good thing to some IT departments who are caught up in the inner bureaucracy that exists in many corporations. Just the idea that they have the authority to spend without being subject to the Procurement’s department constant oversight and review might seem like a godsend. But with that authority needs to come some accountability or, in this case and maybe more importantly, a vision of what they are building and how all of the pieces fit together.
This is my friend’s concern. It is not that this client of his is not using what they are buying – the client is at least using 10% of the storage capacity that it is purchasing. But he is watching in amazement as different factions within this company acquire very similar products and then only use a small percentage of what they are purchasing.
Ironically, these storage products that they are purchasing are supposed to prevent this very thing from happening. These are “cloud storage” products that facilitate the deployment of scale-out, multi-tenant, multi-petabyte solutions and can be confidently shared between multiple users, departments and business units without compromising data integrity.
Instead what he is apparently seeing is the deployment of multi-petabyte solutions that are compartmentalized, segmented and definitely not shared. This is due to each IT department having its own budget and purchasing authority and operating under the assumption that no one is going to tell them how they should manage and spend it.
So even though each IT department may be in the process of building its own cloud, it does not appear at the corporate level that it has any vision or consensus as to what its broader corporate cloud computing or cloud storage infrastructure needs to look like. Rather each IT department and/or business unit has the freedom and authority to buy the storage solutions that meets its specific needs.
This might even be acceptable if the company had a vision statement as to how all of these storage solutions will eventually roll up and work together as one (which it might but I seriously doubt it.) Instead it appears each IT department director is thinking tactically as to how they can use cloud storage solutions to solve the problems within their sphere of influence without worrying about the broader strategic impact on the organization and the cloudy mess they are creating.
It is when I look at situations like this that I point back to a blog entry I wrote exactly a month ago regarding the four datacenter megatrends for the decade of the teens. One of those was that the future is cloudy and it is for this reason: in most organizations no one yet owns the cloud.
Individuals within organizations think and act far too tactically for there yet to exist a master cloud or even a master vision into which all of these clouds roll up into or are governed by. While I am certain there are exceptions to this generalization, having worked in organizations of all sizes, the thought of having disparate clouds is still less intimidating than having a master plan with a primary cloud into which every cloud must eventually plug into and an individual responsible for managing it all.
Now do I believe the latter will happen where eventually every storage cloud will become part of one larger, overarching storage cloud? I do. In fact, I believe that overarching cloud architecture already exists and I have recently blogged about that solution.
But I also believe that this scenario with individual IT departments and business units building their own clouds needs to play out first. It is only after companies have spent millions and likely billions building out these clouds such as my friend described that they will look at the new cloudy mess they have created and begin to ask, “How do we fix this?” Then the cost justification and political will to build and own such a central cloud will emerge. It just may take another 5 – 10 years before that happens en masse.