Enterprise IT Doesn’t Have an Answer to Amazon – Here’s Why

Let’s face it, Amazon Web Services is a headache for the average IT department. Amazon’s collection of services are fast, scalable, reliable, reasonably cost effective, simple to use and most importantly available as a turn key offering. This is in stark contrast to most solutions enterprise IT offers up. CIOs are asking ‘Why can’t we be more like Amazon?’ and IT is scrambling for answers.

Despite the obvious threat public cloud represents to IT, private clouds remains elusive with internal initiatives often turning into protracted professional services nightmares or simply failing due to complexity. The inability to deliver private cloud in a timely manner has put IT on the defensive.  ‘We can build it cheaper’ and ‘Our needs are too unique’ are a couple of the more common excuses I’ve heard on why public cloud is a bad idea. These excuses are just an act designed to hide the real problem; IT as we know it is not capable of replicating what Amazon provides.

It is easy to conclude that Amazon’s army of coders and cheap commodity hardware is the key differentiator between its success and ITs failures. While those have a lot to do with the economic advantages that Amazon has, it doesn’t explain why private cloud remains elusive for most organizations. The root of the problem is the bottom up nature of IT and our preconceived notions of infrastructure.

I’m ready… What are we building again?

Abraham Maslow famously said, “To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail”. When a CIO asks his server, storage, network, security and operations teams to collaborate and deliver a private cloud, each group comes to the table wielding a best of breed hammer; the hammer they know, love and trust. It doesn’t take long to realize that building the IT equivalent of the Space Shuttle requires something more than the most well thought out collection of blunt instruments.

There are countless definitions of ‘cloud’ but cloud is nothing more than a service offering operating under a specific operational model (typically self service) designed to abstract the underlying components. To build a private cloud, one must define the service and the model under which they want it to operate long before the tools are selected. The appropriate tools should become a natural result of the needs of the service, not a preordained mandate.  In essence, we need to define what we want to build and then select the appropriate products to build it with. This is the core difference between the Amazon (most service providers in fact) model and the typical enterprise IT model.  In enterprise IT, we bring our tools and then decide what we can build. The results are services constrained by the products we have already selected.  This no longer works and we have to change quickly.

A number of CIOs have tried to solve this problem by busting the silos within their organization. The rationale being that if the network admin and the server admin report to the same manager it will usher in a new era of IT efficiency and cooperation. The results are predictable; the network and server admins show up to the same meetings with the same olds hammers. It’s a step in the right direction I suppose, but far from solving the problem.

What we need is an IT revolution. We need to put aside our preconceived notions and brand preferences. We need to think beyond the boxes we prefer and start thinking about the services we need to deliver. There is no better indicator of the urgency needed than the market share growth of public cloud and software as a service. Their adoption continues to accelerate while we continue to offer excuses.

The first guy through the wall always gets bloodied.

It’s one thing to throw stones (tip – this will get you kicked out of most data centers). It is far more difficult to execute an IT revolution. In fact, enterprise IT is so hard to change that I don’t recommend changing it at all. At some point incremental upgrades on existing products, technologies, processes, people are insufficient. IT is so bogged down with maintaining the legacy infrastructure and limited in vision by the tribal knowledge they hold dear that there is no time to build something fundamentally new, even in the face of irrelevance if they don’t act.  It is a classic case of innovators dilemma and it is time to start over.

It is no accident that most successful private cloud initiates I have witnessed were not driven by traditional IT, but by a tiger team of architects and operations personnel in close cooperation with the lines of business they serve. Essentially the CIOs decided enough was enough and asked his/her team to start anew. Casting aside those that would stand in the way and building a team that was willing and capable of delivering private cloud.

As a kid, I was a huge baseball fan. It was hard no to be, growing up in Boston where the Red Sox are not just a sports team but a way of life. There is a great scene in the Brad Pitt movie ‘Moneyball’ that sums up the situation perfectly.

The only question that remains is do you want to be the dinosaur or the asteroid that kills them off?

The future of IT as we know it is grim, and it should be. It is a dinosaur on its last breath. Without swift action we will quickly be swallowed by those that are building alternatives to the services we offer. Amazon and others have built an impressive array of turnkey services that are good enough for 80% of the applications we support. The other 20% are quickly being swallowed by software as a service (SaaS) or other forms of hosted solutions.

You don’t need to have much of an imagination to predict a day when Amazon offers a turnkey private cloud to augment their public cloud services. Your CIO will log into Amazon to buy the latest book on improving his/her golf swing and decide to add private cloud rack to the shopping cart, free ‘Super Saver Shipping’ included. They will drop it off in three to five days and the data center operator (the free intern the CIO hired for the summer) will connect it to power and the Internet for instant capacity. Who wants to pre-order?

Of course, there is another path. We can proactively break the mold and decide the time is now to rethink IT. A select few may decide to champion the cause of IT revolution and push for change from within. This won’t be an easy path and you will almost certainly get bloodied along the way.  But if enterprise IT is to survive the onslaught of public cloud and software as a service we must pivot and you could be the linchpin in transforming your organization.

It is time to have a conversation with your CIO. Convincing him/her that evolving the IT 1.0 model is not working fast enough is easy conversation. Proposing a parallel, services oriented IT 2.0 is a big step. Are you bold enough to start the IT 2.0 revolution?

Categories: Cloud Computing, Data Center

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