While IT has been concentrating on security, virtualisation and taking out costs (like the business told them to), business users have been signing up for public cloud services and bringing their own smartphones to work. You can either work out how to make the most of cloud or get run over. Increasingly it looks like the right answer is hybrid cloud; use the public cloud where it makes sense and run your own private cloud for the crown jewels.
That can't mean just running your data centre the way you always have and calling it a private cloud. You need to get the efficiencies of automation and virtualisation to cut costs (you can't get the elasticity of cloud internally unless you're lucky enough to have departments whose peak loads fall at different times of the year, but you can get some of the benefits). But the IT department also need to offer a cloud-like service to business users, that they can sign up for and start using as quickly and easily as they could an external cloud platform. Bonus points if the public and private cloud can run the same workloads so you can scale out to the cloud when you need to or bring successful trial public cloud implementations in house to develop further.
So far the only two platforms really promising that mix are Microsoft, with Azure and System Center 2012, and the still-nascent OpenStack (backed by Rackspace, Cisco and others). Microsoft has a good mix of management, virtualisation - with management of multiple hypervisors, automation and development tools which could let you keep existing Microsoft systems but make yourself more agile as well.
Chatting with Brad Anderson, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's management and security division, I asked him what IT can do to stay relevant in the face of cloud and if he sees business units getting around what they see as obstructive IT departments.
"They will literally work around IT. If you don’t make it simple, if you don’t make it easy for your service consumers to consume capacity from you, they will go around you. [With] infrastructure people, the cloud scares them. We announced Windows Intune and they look at that and go ‘wow, does that put me out of a job?’ Absolutely it doesn't. It's just a shift in where the infrastructure is running at; it actually allows you to add a lot more value. You can be proactive…
"IT has a chance to lead here like it hasn't had a chance to lead in a long, long time; to be the thought leaders on the cloud, be the thought leaders in how you do some fundamental change in how the business operates. My encouragement is to IT pros is embrace this; don’t step back and let the angst get the better of you. It is a fundamental change - it's the biggest change I've been involved in in the 25 years I've been in this industry. It creates opportunity both from a personal and company perspective and my advice is to grab ahold of it. It’s much better to be driving rather than being driven."
He has a definition of private cloud that seems eminently sensible. "The difference between a highly virtualised data centre and a private cloud is the maturity of your products, your processes and your people. As we think about moving from a highly virtualised data centre into the cloud you have to increase the maturity of everything that you're using.
"It's all about the apps. It's the whole reason we deploy infrastructure. The whole reason why we do anything in the data centre is to deploy applications and services that allow the user to get their job done."