Posts Tagged ‘agile IT’

Cloud: threat or opportunity for the IT department?

July 25, 2011

Simon Wardley in his fascinating series of blog entries on innovation and the enterprise (http://blog.gardeviance.org) points out that technologies tend to follow an innovation lifecycle, from early innovation, to custom-built solutions, then products and finally (if the technology is widely taken up) to commodity. What we call ‘Cloud’ today is, he contends, really just the transition from IT delivered as products to IT delivered as commodity service.

In many ways this transition mirrors the previous transition in IT, from custom-built (mainframes) to (off-the-shelf) products. In that case vendors identified a huge pent-up demand from line of business individuals and departments who were frustrated by the inability of their IT department to satisfy their computing needs. Consequently vendors produced hardware and software products intended to deliver business benefits direct to line of business, and in doing so bypassed IT. Although the uptake of those products delivered significant competitive advantage to organisations which successfully exploited this new paradigm, it also resulted in IT anarchy with hardware and applications scattered all over the organisation, and data stored in many locations and in incompatible formats. It’s taken the IT department most of the last two decades to regain control. And now, just when almost all of the IT has been consolidated into the datacentre, along comes this new disruptive transition.

Today’s IT users don’t turn to the IT department when they want a new IT service – they turn to Google. They search for a service (frequently freeware) that’s ‘good enough’ and just start using it. If they want conferencing they turn to Skype, for a marketing campaign they’ll use Facebook and Twitter, project managers will utilise 37Signals, sales people will use Salesforce, and for shared storage they’ll use Dropbox. Don’t believe it? – well, ask your Generation Y colleagues, 34% of whom admit to accessing unsanctioned services in order to get their job done (http://itknowledgeexchange.techtarget.com/cio/living-with-the-toys-of-generation-y-in-the-workplace/).

So what can IT do? Well, given the parallels it should be possible to avoid some of the mistakes from the last transition. Firstly, IT needs to be aware that this shift is occurring and to prepare for the impact. The IT department needs to start focusing on the services being consumed and understand how they can be managed. They need to avoid Ludditism. Coming up with a long list of ‘why nots’ (security, privacy, availability, legal issues etc) is an irrelevance if services are already being consumed without approval. A strong argument in favour of the IT department is that they can ensure service consumption conforms to organisational policy, but doing so requires IT to embrace the transition rather than resisting it. People won’t ask permission (or assistance) from IT if the answer will always be ‘no’.

Trusting the Cloud

January 19, 2009

This was originally posted in response to a blog entry http://news.cnet.com/8301-19413_3-10133487-240.html by James Urquhart in his insightful ‘The Wisdom of  Clouds’ :

At the moment there’s a clear difference of opinion amongst cloud aficionados on the subject of trust. The Web 2.0 optimists argue that informal trust is good enough. They’ll say “I’ve rarely had a problem with EC2/FlexiScale/Mosso and when I do I just restart my app some time later. Oh, and I get some credits too when that happens”. The business skeptics on the other hand say “How can I expect some third party to take the same care and attention over my critical applications that I do myself? How can I trust someone else not to lose, accidentally expose, or sell my confidential data?”

Trust is often treated in these cloud discussions as if it was a binary property. I either trust ‘the cloud’ or I don’t. But things aren’t as simple in the real world. I might trust James to look after my pint whilst I go to the restroom but not to look after my Porsche (if I had a Porsche, that is). Whereas I’d trust my colleague Barry with my Porsche but I wouldn’t leave him alone for 5 minutes with my pint. Trust between two individuals / organisations is a function of their previous interactions.

In the business world (and in the pre-nuptial arrangements of the very wealthy) trust is codified in legal contracts and in the legal system that supports those contracts. So, when you ask me if I trust my bank to look after my money then I’d say … (no, wait, that’s a bad example). When you ask me if I trust my airline to deliver the seat I’ve booked then I’d say ‘yes, in the main’. But if they don’t, then I know that there is a contract in place and an audit trail and that there are laws that will result in my being compensated for their failure to deliver. This knowledge bolsters my trust and is ultimately what makes my business with the airline, indeed all business, possible. I don’t think we’ll see broad take-up of cloud infrastructure until we can capture the contractual relationships between cloud customers and vendors (and incidentally I believe that in the cloud this distinction will become increasingly blurred).

At Arjuna we think this can be done by allowing service requirements to be clearly defined and then by constructing service agreements (effectively contracts) between independent parties intended to support those service requirements. (Thomas Bittman of Gartner has recently blogged on how potentially complex some of the requirements might be – http://blogs.gartner.com/thomas_bittman/2009/01/08/virtual-cloud-privacy-is-gray/ ). These agreements need to be very dynamic in nature and to be sufficiently flexible so that they are capable of supporting everything from complex, tightly defined business relationships backed by legal documentation, to the very loose and non-contractual relationships. Once an agreement is in place both parties can then build their own audit trail recording their view of how they and the other party have performed. This knowledge can be used to inform further agreements i.e. build trust, and to help to settle (or avoid) disputes between the parties.

Business requires contracts and, if it means business, then so does the cloud.

‘The Big Switch’ Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google

January 30, 2008

So I enjoyed reading ‘The Big Switch’ – well written, sobering, and intelligent is my summary.

Nicholas Carr continues with a theory that he first outlined in his controversial 2003 article, ‘IT Doesn’t Matter’ (later expanded and published as his first book, ‘Does IT Matter?’) But it’s also a critique of the ‘Brave New World’ of the Web as heralded by the pioneers of the internet, the dotcom boomers and more lately by the Web 2.0 fan clubs.

‘Does IT Matter?’ Well, the answer reiterated in ‘The Big Switch’, is yes it does but not as much as the CEOs of the largest IT suppliers would have you believe. Carr makes the strong case that although IT is an operational requirement it doesn’t necessarily drive profits. Indeed, IT is increasingly becoming a commodity – as any competitive benefits gained by one company can be quickly imitated by rivals. These views have made him unpopular with many in the IT industry and he was once proclaimed “The Technology World’s No. 1 Public Enemy” by Newsweek (a badge he wears with considerable pride).

‘The Big Switch’ elaborates on Carr’s earlier comparison of the Electricity Generating industry, at the start of the last century, and today’s Computing industry. He explains how Edison delivered much of the technology and Insull the business model which eventually persuaded companies to abandon their reliance on internally generated power. Insull persuaded them to connect to an electricity ‘grid’ enabling them to draw power as a ‘Utility’ service. He argues that such a move, with its massive economies of scale, was an economic necessity at the time and that today’s technological advances, combined with the same economic forces, will drive us inevitably towards a ‘Computing Utility’.

Carr goes on to examine the social consequences of concentrating this ‘power’ (read ‘data’ for the Computing Utility) in the hands of the few, given the commoditisation of knowledge and even human relationships. Where ‘The Long Tail’ (by Chris Anderson) presented a glowing economic picture of a world full of almost infinite consumer choice, Carr warns of the dangers of a world full of ‘unbundled’ knowledge where every piece of information is of equal value and is therefore, ultimately, valueless.

I share Carr’s views of the future. Indeed, I believe IT is already in the process of transition. Whilst I don’t have the statistics to hand I’d confidently predict that the proportion of processor cycles initiated by an individual that execute remotely, (rather than on the individual’s local machine), is increasing very significantly year on year, and that the same is true of accessed data. Some of these cycles and data accesses are performed on behalf of applications running in the server room (possibly from thin clients), some are running on outsourced infrastructure, some are SAAS or mobile applications, others are networked applications such as Google search, ‘Second Life’ or ‘YouTube’. All represent small, but significant steps towards a Computing Utility.

Arjuna is working to help ease this transition by building support for Agile IT Infrastructure that recognises that today’s IT is increasingly distributed within and beyond the organisation. I’ll explain some of the concepts behind our work soon.