Can the cloud bail enterprises out of IT debt?

"We are in a hole and we need to stop digging," said Cameron Haight, an analyst at Gartner.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Cloud computing and the operating model that goes with it will be adopted because businesses are crumbling under complex infrastructure acquired over the last 40 years.

"We are in a hole and we need to stop digging," said Cameron Haight, an analyst at Gartner. "We need an infrastructure that has no allegiance to a vendor or a framework."

IT debt is a concept that revolves around the sum it would take to update a company's IT systems. Also see: Is there really a global 'IT debt' of $500 billion? | Gartner pegs global IT ‘debt’ at $500 billion and growing | Gartner’s “IT Debt” Scare

Speaking at the Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Haight said no company will do the clean swap, but the cloud operating model---DevOps in Gartner lingo---will ditch traditional IT. Haight argued that putting "your mess for less" in the cloud won't fix the IT debt problem. The only way to get out of it will be moving to a cloud operating model and ultimately mixing and matching services.

DevOps is about using just enough ITIL and being nimble enough to iterate and create a malleable and programmable infrastructure. Judging by the attendance at Haight's talk there are a lot of technology execs crushed by IT debt.

Among the key points:

  • Infrastructure is too complex and companies only use 20 percent of the features in a system. These extra features gobble up budgets.
  • Companies will develop internal clouds, virtualize and automate only to find that they still can't match costs. The upshot is that these companies will ultimately go to public clouds. Haight noted in a presentation:

The conventional wisdom in enterprises seeking to become internal service providers is that they can adopt virtualization, automation and cloud technologies and hence become as efficient as the major public cloud service providers. The reality suggests that enterprise IT organizations will, after all of this investment, still be orders of magnitude more costly in terms of IT service delivery, as well as substantially less agile. This is because these large cloud providers (such as Amazon and Google) think unconventionally about all aspects of IT, from infrastructure design to the operations processes they leverage. Even the type of people they look for are different from those we traditionally hire within the enterprise.

  • The recent Amazon Web Services outage didn't invalidate the cloud operating model. Haight argued that the cloud model worked because AWS didn't have a catastrophic failure. The system was too complex, but AWS kept running.

In the end, a cloud approach can get enterprises out of their IT debts, but it will take years to get back to par.

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