IT-as-a-service peeking out of cloud

newsmaker EMC's information infrastructure and cloud services head explains what it takes to truly make IT a self-service, and why maintenance will still account for over 70 percent of IT budgets in 2010.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor
Howard Elias, EMC

newsmaker SINGAPORE--The future of IT is in the cloud, according to Howard Elias, president and COO of information infrastructure and cloud services at EMC.

The 53-year-old, who professes to have experienced various phases in the IT industry from mainframe computing and the PC-client server age to the Internet and distributed computing era, says cloud computing is "no doubt" the "biggest wave" of them all. This is because, unlike the previous phases, cloud computing changes the way customers acquire, architect and consume IT. According to the executive, the revolution is set to bring about true IT-as-a-service.

In an interview, the IT veteran of 30 years shared with ZDNet Asia what the company is doing to realize the vision of IT-as-a-service internally as well as for customers. Elias, who was in Singapore this week, also offered his take on why, despite a growing number of cloud deployments, businesses will continue to allocate about three-quarters of their IT budgets to keeping the lights on.

EMC has been evangelizing its vision of a private cloud, which is essentially a virtual data center able to connect out to the cloud?
Cloud computing to us is not so much a noun or a thing, it's also an adjective--it's a style of computing. To us, cloud computing is not something out there on the Internet, it's also in your data center--it's the way that you will operate. So, moving from a physical infrastructure to a virtualized infrastructure, and adding management, policy and automation, [will] ultimately give you the ability to operate your infrastructure in a cloud-like manner.

Inside a data center, a CIO could say to the internal users--business partners, line-of-businesses, divisions—"Here's your cloud" and state the service levels provided in the cloud...maybe even to the point where there is a self-service portal. We actually envision a day where a line-of-business manager can just go to his browser, open it and provision a set of services and capabilities. Imagine having an internal app store where I can choose my own applications, number of users, the service levels that I want, and IT is delivered to me as a service. And that can all be done outside of the company data center which my CIO runs. Our view of the private cloud is a virtualized data center with capabilities around management, policy and automation delivering services to the business.

What has been customer feedback about the journey to the private cloud and how ready are they from a mindset, process or environmental point of view to achieve such a state?
The most common question I get is: "how fast can you get me there?" The concept is, I would say, readily understood, and the benefits are equally understood. It doesn't take very long for someone who's operated an IT department for a while to understand the constraints of the infrastructure silos brought about by applications. They see the inefficiency of the resource utilization, they see the lack of flexibility, and the biggest thing is, they typically have to provision or supply infrastructure that will meet the peak of the day and year.

Think of a retailer--there are certain times of the year when there are lots of workloads and other times when there aren't that much. If you're putting in an application, you've got to buy enough resources for the peak. Whereas in cloud computing, you provision in your private cloud or go to a service provider that's got some capacity you can utilize externally. To cut the long story short, people understand. So they go, "OK, so how do I get there?"

It's very easy for a green field--if you have no IT, just build the new one the new way. But unfortunately, the vast majority of customers don't have that luxury. It's really a journey of how do I get from my existing capability to that. We talk about the journey in multiple phases--phase 1 is really [about] virtualizing the infrastructure first--there are a lot of IT applications that you can immediately virtualize to get the benefits of cloud-type operating models. Then you begin to virtualize your business and mission-critical applications--this is where customers will begin to put things like their exchange applications or SAP. And finally, you get to the point where you add the management and the automation piece. And that's when IT truly becomes a service. This is a multi-year journey. We're seeing this happen in every part of the world.

A customer I was meeting with on this trip, without my prompting at all, asked me how we could help him implement a private cloud for his company. There are two data centers with plans to add a third; he wants to be able to balance workloads among the data centers, and he wants to be able to make acquisitions of other businesses and bring them into the private cloud.

That's interesting. There was a recent survey, however, which found that more than 50 percent of CIOs in Singapore and the region have no plans to go on the cloud.
It depends on how the question is asked. There are many customers who, when you say, "What do you think about cloud computing?", the first thing that comes to mind is Google or Amazon. And many would say they have no plans to get on the cloud that way. But when I sit down with a customer to talk about the definition of a private cloud, and I ask, "Wouldn't you benefit from having more flexible infrastructure, more policy-based automation management, the ability to pay as you grow and not provision for the peak until you absolutely need it, maybe even leverage some external capacity from a valued partner or service provider?", I haven't met a single CIO who says no.

So the understanding of cloud computing globally as well as in Asia is pretty good?
I wouldn't say it's 100 percent. Once people start to see the new paradigm forming, everybody wants to jump on the train. There are a lot of companies that say "I do cloud", but they don't even know what they mean by that--they just want to be part of the new buzzword. Maybe there's some confusion that gets created around there. But I would say for the vast majority of customers, when you have the kind of conversation I mentioned, it's fairly straightforward to understand at least what we mean by a private cloud where you implement it inside your own data center, a public cloud which may be provided by a service provider, Google or Microsoft, and the ability to federate or communicate between these types of clouds. At that level, there is a growing common understanding.

A new report from Forrester Research says that technology executives this year are looking to spend only 50 percent of their IT budgets on keeping the lights on, compared with the typical 70 to 80 percent. Realistically, can that be achieved and how do businesses go about doing that?
I would argue with that. I think this year, most companies are still going to spend close to 75 percent.

Even with cloud deployments?
That's the key. Cloud deployments are one way the trend will be realized. It's not so much on the technology side, it's really on the operations side that the costs add up. If you look at the typical IT department, the majority of employees are actually involved with maintenance or keeping the lights on. Only a small minority are doing new application development or true IT innovation.

The big promise of cloud computing is that basic infrastructure management is more automated--I wouldn't say it's completely automatic because you still have some management capability around it. And that is going to free up those employees [from worrying] about each and every element of the infrastructure…so now those employees can be directed more toward adding value to the business.

But you'd still expect businesses to dedicate over 70 percent of their budgets to maintenance in 2010?

One way to think about that is the level of penetration of virtualization. Now, virtualization by itself is not the total solution to getting to this cloud-type environment, but it is the key enabler. If you are a business that is not virtualized or only partially virtualized, you're still somewhere close to 75 percent. If you're mostly virtualized--50, 60 or 70 percent--you'd start to come down; maybe you'd spend about 65 percent of the budget to keep the lights on. But in order to get to 50 percent, you need to finish the task because once you have virtualization you really need the management and policy-based tools that would then operate on that virtualized environment. And the last key change is the re-skilling of the IT employee base.

When will most businesses get to the 50 percent stage?
Probably in a couple of years. I'm sure some companies would claim that they're already there today. In terms of the majority getting to that point, I would say it's a several-year journey.

In terms of EMC's own cloud strategy, what has the journey been like and how has it evolved in the last couple of years?
We're moving, I would say, as fast as, if not slightly faster than, some of the leading-edge companies. We've been virtualizing for a number of years now. Our CIO Sanjay Mirchandani would say that probably about 60 percent of our application workloads in our data center today are virtualized—he's set a goal to reach 100 percent by Q1 next year. We're retiring anything that is not x86--we're going to be a 100 percent x86 shop running VMware virtualization technology. We've begun putting in V-Blocks and we're beginning to run many, but not the majority of, applications in a private cloud environment. The good news is we're seeing the benefits that we suggest customers can get in our strategy, in terms of the flexibility, agility, pay-as-you-grow and, ultimately, even lower operating costs so we can spend more of our IT dollars on business innovation. We're well into that second phase of the journey I described earlier.

What about re-skilling? How is EMC going to tackle that area?
This is something we chat about quite often. Culturally, how do we restructure the organization and the skills that are needed? Well, we've looked at that. Sanjay's taken the initiative to really think about what this means for some of the key architect roles--folks that are driving innovation, folks on the operations side. It's iterative, we're learning about what's needed here.

The other thing we've begun to do is develop a curriculum track--EMC has a fairly significant education services division where we provide training and certification. For a number of years we provided that around enterprise storage, backup and recovery and replication; we're creating the curriculum now for private cloud architectures. We're also considering developing a new certification track so that instead of having a storage architect, we can have a private cloud architect. We're deep in conversation and development for a lot of content, and we're going to be learning and testing. We are working with VMware and Cisco on this as well, so that by the end of this year we're going to have a set of capabilities we can use to help our customers.

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