I am tremendously in favor of virtualization, a staunch proponent for cloud computing, and I’d automate my own life if I could. After all, we dedicated most of last year to investigating and piloting various cloud backup solutions. But take a peek at my infrastructure and you might be surprised. Why is my team still running physical servers? Why are we using so few public resources? And tape, really?
I am not the only one who is a bit behind on rolling out the new technology. Check out this study that came out on Forbes this week. "The slower adoption of cloud ... reflects a greater hesitancy ... remain conservative about putting mission-critical and customer data on the cloud. Regulations ... may explain much of this reluctance. The prevalence of long-established corporate data centers with legacy systems throughout the US and Europe ... may be another factor. Accordingly, the study confirms that overcoming the fear of security risks remains the key to adopting and benefiting from cloud applications."
I have a sense that cloud computing, in the IaaS sense, is roughly where virtualization was circa 2004. It is good for point solutions. Some firms are looking at it for development regions. Now folks are beginning to investigate cloud for disaster recovery. (See, for example, Mark Stanislav's Cloud Disaster Recovery presentation.) These low risk areas enable IT management to build competencies in the team. A next step would be moving out tier 3 apps. A few years after that, the mission-critical tier 1 apps will start to move. This will happen over the next five to eight years.
This logical progression gives the impression that I see everything moving to the cloud. As Ray DePena said this week, "Resist the cloud if you must, but know that it is inevitable." I can see that. However inevitable cloud computing is, like virtualization, it does not fit all use cases.
Why are some servers still physical? In large part, it is due to legacy support. Some things cannot be virtualized and cannot be unplugged, without incurring significant costs. In some cases, this choice is driven by the software vendor. Some support contracts still mandate that they cover only physical servers. Legacy and vendors aside, some servers went physical because the performance gains outweigh the drawbacks. Decisions, decisions.
The majority of my environment is virtualized and is managed as a private cloud. Even there, however, there are gaps. Some areas are not automated and fully managed due to project constraints. We simply have not gotten there yet. Other areas probably will never be automated. With how infrequent an event occurs, and with how little manual work is needed, it does not make sense at my scale to invest the time. This is a conscious decision on where it is appropriate to apply automation.
Why are we not using so more public resources? Oh, I want to. Believe me. Now I am not keen on spending several weeks educating auditors until cloud reaches critical mass and the audit bodies catch up. But the real killer is costs. For stable systems, the economics do not make sense. The Forbes article points out that the drivers of public cloud are "speed and agility -- not cost-cutting." My team spent ten months in 2011 trying to make the economics work for cloud backup. Fast forward a half of a year, and we are still on tape. It is an informed decision based on the current pricing models.
Is cloud inevitable? The progression of the technology most surely is, as is the adoption of the technology in areas where it makes sense. The adoption curve of virtualization gives us some insight into the future. Today, there are successful firms that still run solely on physical servers with direct attached storage. Come 2020, as inevitable as cloud computing is, it is equally inevitable that there will be successful firms still running on in-house IT.
Many firms, such as mine, will continue to use a variety of approaches to meet a variety of needs. Cloud computing is simply the latest tactic. The strategy is striking the right balance between usability, flexibility, security, and economics.
Side note: If you do not already follow Ray DePena, you should. He is @RayDePena on Twitter and cloudbender.com on the Web.