The Political Challenge of Moving to the Cloud

The way that I see it, VMware is up for a political fight in many of its customers’ IT departments.  Two things have become evident to me this week at VMworld 2011 – first, moving to the cloud is going to involve rewriting a lot of our applications and two, this is going to to be as much a political shift in our companies as a technical shift.

I think that the political issue is easier to explain, so I’ll begin there.  Unlike virtualization or virtual infrastructure, the decision to move to the cloud is not going to come from the systems group in most companies.  The systems groups may be able to advocate the change and provide the reasons for it, but it is going to have to be a strategic move from higher management.  The tangible monetary benefits of cloud are less clear than with virtualization, whose primary motivators were increasing utilization of physical machines and reducing the number of physical machines required which saved money.  In other words, the IT systems group is not going to be the primary advocate or decision maker when moving to the cloud.  Cloud is going to need to meet some higher business need rather than a technical need, although there are technical benefits.

I have made the mistake of calling my vSphere deployment at work a “private cloud.”  As I have written about before, I realized earlier this year how incorrect this actually is.  A cloud, by definition, includes automation and a service catalog and includes things like distributed file systems for storage.  Cloud apps are truly things like Google Apps, Facebook and Salesforce.com.  Cloud apps are written differently to make use of new data models and programming techniques to handle distributed computing across multiple machines or even datacenters.  My vSphere deployment at work does not meet these requirements to be a cloud.  We have simply virtualized client and server applications.  My inaccuracy was underlined during the keynotes of VMworld 2011, from both CEO Paul Martiz and CTO Dr. Steven Herrod.

In both keynotes this week, a large amount of time was spent understanding a middle layer which VMware is building to enable developers to build cloud software which is fundamentally different than our “legacy” client/server applications.  There is a push away from relational databases towards distributed models which can be spread over multiple sites.   With tools from the vFabric product line, VMware is seeking to enable developers to adapt their software to work in the cloud.  This week, VMware introduced SQLFIRE, an in-memory SQL product which can do very high performance, low latency data lookups in the cloud.  SQLFIRE joins GemFIRE in the data subset of vFabric tools.

Perhaps it is a lack of experience with the cloud, but it seems like the entire thing is foggy, if you’ll forgive the pun.  Unlike virtualization, that instantly clicked with me, cloud doesn’t make as much sense.  I see the reasons for distributed computing across multiple datacenters, both internal and external, makes sense.  It allows for flexibility in how companies deploy applications and services.  It enables users to consume these services on any device and instantly, but that brings me back to a political issue again.

In many corporate environments, the user’s personal devices are not allowed to be used for corporate access.  That is going to be another major political shift in companies between management and security officers.  I am glad to see that VMware is spending time in making tools to deploy these applications with IT’s controls setup in the beginning instead of an afterthought, but the entire model will make many security officiers cringe.

In addition to security officers, there are great leagues of developers engrained in ‘their’ way of coding who may balk at the new paradigm.  As Steven Herrod said during the Tuesday keynote, a lot of the code written for the cloud is going to come from those under the age of 35.  It is a key demographic for VMware who have yet to become so set in their ways and who are open to change.  But these folks face political resistance from management and from co-workers as they take the cloud journey.

With all of this said, however, I think it is absurd for systems admins and managers at VMworld to simply stick their head in the sand.  Cloud appears to be here to stay and all major vendors are embracing it.  Whether it is a completely private or hybrid cloud model, all companies should be investigating this.  We now have more information with which we can make educated decisions and the mass public can begin its journal upward to the cloud.  But it is not without great challenges, which I believe VMware saw early, and it seems that the vFabric part of the VMware portfolio is the critical piece as the years move forward.

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Philip is a IT solutions engineer working for AmWINS Group, Inc., an insurance brokerage firm in Charlotte, NC. With a focus on data center technologies, he has built a career helping his customers and his employers deploy better IT solutions to solve their problems. Philip holds certifications in VMware and Microsoft technologies and he is a technical jack of all trades that is passionate about IT infrastructure and all things Apple. He's a part-time blogger and author here at Techazine.com.

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  1. » A problem for VMware: If it’s “good enough” then why pay more? Tech Talk - October 24, 2011

    […] one that systems administration groups have little to do with influencing in organizations (see my original post here).  This is a particular challenge for VMware and its advocates.  It is, frankly, a problem that […]

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