Not too long ago, I was visiting with an IT executive at a large company in the Midwest. The technology profile was fairly typical of a company that had leveraged IT over several decades: a mainframe that was the backbone of their operations, a large number of servers, storage devices, and networks, and everything from commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software, to custom applications developed and maintained by in-house staff.
Conspicuously absent, however, was any significant presence in the cloud, a potential indication that innovation wasn't a priority. Or more likely, that the day-to-day operational challenges associated with managing a complex IT environment were keeping the team from exploring the cloud in any meaningful way.
I think it's a pretty safe bet that the situation I observed is far from unique. While Amazon recently shared very impressive AWS revenue and growth numbers, and while AWS's competitors have some impressive revenue growth numbers themselves, overall cloud revenue appears to be a small fraction of the multitrillion-dollar annual global IT spend. This is a good indication that most corporate compute and storage remains within the four walls of corporate data centers, and means that many companies have yet to leverage the tremendous business value that cloud offers.
Unfortunately, these companies are stuck paying what I call the IT "infrastructure tax.”
The IT infrastructure tax is the often sizable portion of a company's IT budget and skill set that goes towards building and managing data centers, provisioning and operating servers, storage systems, and networks, and scaling this infrastructure to meet a seemingly insatiable demand.
Unquestionably this is mission-critical work, but IT gets very little (if any!) credit for it, and more importantly, the resources applied to it are resources that can’t be applied to directly engaging the business, and helping it serve customers and drive revenue.
If this sounds depressingly familiar, then it’s time to embrace the cloud, or at least to give it a small hug. You’ll likely find it hugs you right back, and before you know it, a very beneficial relationship will begin to flourish.
Here are a few suggestions on how to get started:
1. Do something really, really fast. Reach out to your IT team’s best and brightest, and tell them to spin something up in the cloud: compute, storage, and a Web service. Shake off the inertia, and work to create a sense of excitement. If you find they’ve already been exploring the cloud, commend them.
2. Invest in cloud technology training. Effectively leveraging cloud increasingly requires a sophisticated skill set, and you can accelerate its adoption by purposefully equipping your teams. And, you might also allay concerns about job security – not an uncommon concern when introducing new technologies. Remember how mainframe programmers felt when distributed systems began to proliferate?
3. Make a concerted effort to understand the security ramifications of moving your company’s applications and data into the cloud, and be prepared to address the concerns your business colleagues will inevitably express. Note: in a future blog entry, I’ll provide some pointers on this really important topic.
4. Put your green eyeshade on, and delve into cloud economics. I strongly believe the numbers are in cloud’s favor (and yours), but make sure you understand the mechanics and implications of usage-based pricing.
5. And finally, become a student of the cloud yourself. To effectively lead an IT organization through a transition to the cloud, you must be conversant in cloud-speak, especially when you move beyond the basics (e.g., compute, storage, networking), and begin to embrace more enterprise-class features.
Whether you’re an IT leader at large company in the Midwest, a multi-national, or an SMB, the cloud’s in your future. Embrace it. Say goodbye to the IT infrastructure tax. And begin partnering with your business colleagues the way you’ve always wanted to.
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