by Bob Lewis

ITIL vs The Cloud: Pick Both — Just Not at the Same Time

Jan 18, 2011
Cloud Computing

The Cloud is fundamentally incompatible with ITIL. That doesn't make it useless or unimportant.

The Cloud is fundamentally incompatible with ITIL. That doesn’t make it useless or unimportant.

ManagementSpeak: We use a comprehensive change management system to ensure the quality of our mission-critical systems.

Translation: You’ll need to ask the committee. I don’t want to be blamed for anything you break.

Igal Koshevoy asks a crucial question: Is a committee a system?

Fog is just a cloud you can touch.

So instead of “Private Cloud,” wouldn’t “Fog” be a better choice?

You can, interestingly enough, build ITIL-compatible Fogs. The Cloud? Far less likely. As last week’s interview with ITIL guru Rick LiaBraaten revealed, The Cloud is deficient with respect to at least four ITIL core processes: Problem Management, Availability Management, Performance Management, and Change Management. We covered the first three of these last week (“ITIL vs The Cloud: Pick One,” KJR, 1/10/2011). To continue:


KJR: Let’s talk about Change Management in The Cloud.

Rick: Short discussion. I can sum up Change Management in The Cloud in two words: You Can’t.

KJR: Is it really that black and white?

Rick: Just about. No matter how IT handles Change Management, to be professional about it, and to follow ITIL guidelines, you have to regression test each change to make sure it doesn’t break anything that’s currently in production. And, you have to have a back-out plan (again, an ITIL guideline) in case the change blows up when you do put it in production.

KJR: Why would this be so hard for Cloud vendors to support?

Rick: That’s a rhetorical question, right?

Theoretically, Cloud vendors could provide test environments for every upgrade, for their customers to use in regression testing. I don’t know of any that do that now, but they could.

But a back-out plan? Cloud vendors would have to support multiple versions, just as software vendors do now, so their customers could opt out of one or more upgrades until they’re ready, or until their production version finally passes out of support … typically, in three to five years.

Sure, it’s technically possible. But it would blow up the Cloud’s economic model, which is built on the assumption of commoditized infrastructures.

KJR: Well, okay, but so long as the Cloud vendor doesn’t change its interfaces, isn’t this more of a theoretical problem than one that crops up in the real world?

Rick: Gee, Bob, thanks for being such a terrific straight man. You know as well as I do that this is anything but theoretical. Last year, for example, Microsoft upgraded Hotmail and somehow, many customers couldn’t reach it with Internet Explorer.

If something that simple can blow up from an upgrade, imagine the sheer enjoyment of figuring out a problem with an applications portfolio that integrates NetSuite and Salesforce … even if IT isn’t connecting both of them to an internal data warehouse.

KJR: You’re welcome for the set-up. Have another Leinenkugel, and riddle me this — if The Cloud is really this bad, does it mean CIOs should just take a pass on it until Cloud vendors figure all of this out?

Rick: Not at all. The problem is that a lot of the people who are touting The Cloud seem to be financial analysts, not IT professionals. So they make a big fuss about companies getting to spend OpEx instead of CapEx. But for companies with a strong cash position, that isn’t really a benefit, just a trade-off.

I can see how companies with heavily leveraged balance sheets might find it attractive — high debt means limited access to capital — but it’s hardly a compelling reason to move so far backward.

Another touted benefit is out-of-the-box usability. It’s more psychological than real. When IT installs a COTS solution, business managers typically insist it be customized to support their current processes. With a SaaS solution, the same business managers are suddenly delighted to find process workarounds so they can use the new technology right away.

Go figure.

KJR: So where does The Cloud make sense?

Rick: Remember when the personal computer first started to leak into the enterprise? It was a completely unmanageable gadget, and it didn’t matter. In large enterprises, employees used it for spreadsheets — something they couldn’t do at all before. They used it for word processing, which PCs did cheaper and just as well as expensive, dedicated word processors, which were also unmanageable gadgets.

Small businesses used PCs because they made scaled-down computing affordable.

It’s the same with The Cloud. Large enterprises should use it when it lets them do something they can’t do at all before, and for capabilities where limited manageability isn’t a serious issue.

Mostly, right now I’d say The Cloud is most interesting for small businesses, because it makes forms of computing affordable that have been out of reach until now.

KJR: Is that your big finish?

Rick: No. My big finish is pouring each of us another Leinenkugel.

KJR: Cheers!

Bob Lewis is author of Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, Bare Bones Change Management: What you shouldn’t not do, and six other books on business, information technology, and where they intersect. He is president of IT Catalysts, Inc., a consultancy specializing in these and related areas.

Rick LiaBraaten, Solutions Consultant with Aeritae Consulting Group, Ltd., has more than 20 years of experience in IT consulting with over 11 years of ITIL consulting, process improvement, management and training across the ITSM lifecycle of services. He holds certifications in ITIL v2 and v3, ISO/IEC 2000, and CobiT 4.0. Contact him at