by Bob Lewis

ITIL vs The Cloud: Pick one

Jan 11, 2011
Cloud Computing

The Cloud is fundamentally incompatible with ITIL -- the most widely accepted framework for professional IT management.

The Cloud is fundamentally incompatible with ITIL — the most widely accepted framework for professional IT management.

ManagementSpeak: I’ll see if I can get that removed from the requirements.

Translation: Get used to it.

This week’s anonymous contributor explains, “I’m in a sarcastic mood today, so here’s some ManagementSpeak.”

My major premise is that ITIL (according to its proponents, at least) defines professional standards for IT management. My minor premise is that ITIL and The Cloud are incompatible. My conclusion: Moving your IT infrastructure to The Cloud is unprofessional.

Make this conclusion a major premise. The minor premise: Gartner predicts that within 5 years, one out of five companies will have 100% Cloud-based IT infrastructures. The inescapable conclusion? Gartner is predicting that, in a demi-decade, 20 percent of all companies will abandon their professional standards for IT management.

“Wait wait wait!” I hear you protest through my tinnitus-crazed cochleae. “What do you mean, The Cloud isn’t compatible with ITIL?”


I don’t claim guru-level expertise on either ITIL or The Cloud. Based on what I do know, I’m pretty sure ITIL-approved Change Management can’t happen when IT has no say in whether an upgrade takes place or not. That’s quite important in ITIL-land (and in the land of your IT operations even if you aren’t an ITIL advocate).

Still, I’m working hard to avoid strongly held opinions in the absence of expertise. Which is why I called on my friend and ITIL guru Rick LiaBraaten.

KJR: Rick, if you look at The Cloud and compare it to what ITIL requires for IT best practices (and when will ITIL wake up and stop using that phrase?), how does it stack up?

Rick: I hate to break it to you, but the folks who manage ITIL have woken up. Version 3 talks about “good practices,” not “best practices.” Maybe they read the KJR Manifesto and paid attention.

KJR: Stranger things have happened. Not many, but a few. Anyway, what do you think — does The Cloud conform to ITIL’s good practices then?

Rick: Some of them, sure. Keep in mind that ITIL’s “good practices” are guidelines, not rules. Implementations should be tailored to each organization’s specific situation. Based on the companies I’ve worked with, I’d have to say The Cloud is going to fall short for a lot of your subscribers in several very serious ways.

KJR: Which are …

Rick: You already picked the worst offender — Change Management. Performance and Availability Management are also problematic. So is Problem Management.

KJR: How so?

Rick: Let’s start with Problem Management. When you’re working in The Cloud, unless you can get your entire technology portfolio from a single source you’re going to integrate business solutions from multiple vendors, just as you do now. That means when something goes wrong you’ll deal with multivendor finger-pointing, just like now.

This is a very old problem in IT. Only it’s much worse in The Cloud. In your own data center staff experts can get at the technology themselves to figure out what’s going on. With Cloud-based services they can’t, so if IT has assembled a solution from even three vendors, all of which verify their servers are up … well, the word “screwed” comes to mind.

KJR: And that’s the easy one? How about Performance and Availability Management?

Rick: It’s like this. These days, most IT shops figure if they don’t know an application is down until a user calls the Service Desk to complain, something is terribly wrong.

To be fair, we’re starting to see a few third-party tools that can monitor SaaS applications and alert IT when they aren’t available, but this isn’t what you’d call mature technology. So far as I can tell, the SaaS vendors themselves … and I’m including, which is the one everyone points to as the shining light of Software as a Service … offer nothing to help IT manage the application.

In fact, it’s the opposite — part of the selling point is that you don’t need IT to manage it. That’s the SaaS vendor’s job. And as long as you consider “trust me” to be a good approach to supplier management, I guess that can work.

By the way, Supplier Management is an ITIL core process, and it doesn’t list “trust me” as an example of good practice.

KJR: Imagine that. And Performance Management?

Rick: It’s a good-news/bad-news situation. The good news is that elastic provisioning is one of The Cloud’s major selling points. If performance starts to suffer, it’s easy to add resources.

KJR: And the bad news?

Rick: The bad news is that the tools for monitoring performance are even more primitive than the tools for monitoring availability.

KJR: And we haven’t even started to talk about Change Management. That will have to wait until next week, though, because I keep KJR to 800 words or so.

It’s my version of good practice.

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