While "cloud computing" is some way from being an enterprise reality, IT managers need to start planning now if they want to avoid being ordered by their bosses to implement technology from Google and close down their own datacentres, a Gartner analyst has warned.
"Is cloud computing going to take the world over tomorrow? I don't think so," research VP Geoff Johnson said. "Is it worth being aware of? Absolutely. How will it impact us first? It'll come up as an alternative or a supplement or a new business application. It's an area that's worth paying attention to in terms of your own professional development."
Speaking at Gartner's Infrastructure, Operations and Data Centre conference in Sydney, Johnson pointed out that despite frequent discussion of outsourcing and hosting, 80 percent of Australian datacentres are still operated in-house. Although that figure is unlikely to change in the near future, the high visibility of pay-as-you-go cloud computing strategies meant that IT managers need to take them into consideration, he said.
"In the datacentre, you may need to defend your performance against the competitors out there. You need to think about how you present yourself against those cloud computing providers who may have lower cost than you, look sexier and be more comprehensive than anything you can offer."
The cost gains may be hard to argue with. By Johnson's calculations, storage from cloud providers can be up to 10 times cheaper than in-house options. Bandwidth costs may be halved, and processing costs could drop by as much as a third.
That doesn't necessarily mean rapid adoption, Johnson noted. "The market's going to move that way, but it's not clear. It'll be very customised for each organisation."
IT managers should prepare for that change even if they don't decide to adopt a cloud-based strategy. "Communicate inside the business your contribution to cost management and service-level agreements, particularly when the cloud option emerges and the board asks: does it make sense for us to have our own datacentre?"
Google versus Microsoft
While a number of companies, including Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Yahoo are experimenting in this space, Google has the largest existing infrastructure, Johnson said. "We believe Google has about a million servers deployed — it could be as many as 1.4 million."
Microsoft's main gains in this space would be through migrations from in-house Exchange servers to hosted options, Johnson predicted. "Within five years time, more than 50 percent of the market is going to take [Exchange] from somewhere else."
Even businesses that decide to embrace the cloud won't have an easy time of it. "The real challenge is the complexity of managing your own environment, which now has an additional overlay to it, you need to ask: 'how do I access services from the cloud and how do I integrate them with my own operations?'"
Whatever strategy gets pursued, the shift from thinking about technology to thinking about business strategy would continue, Johnson predicted. "The screwdriver comes out of your pocket and it's more likely to be a pen."
Despite that, technologists should recognise that they do already have a strong understanding of business processes, since relatively few aspects of any company can operate without some technology support. "I suspect most IT people under-appreciate what they understand about their organisations," Johnson said. "That knowledge can be very valuable as you look at these emerging options."