As cloud computing technologies evolve, early adopters in enterprises are learning that one size doesn't fit all. Services like AWS showed the way. Amazon could deliver more computing with less people and infrastructure and make money; a simple business proposition, right?
But for large companies, the reality is not so clear. After all, IT in the enterprise usually isn't the end product.
"Babysitting a data center does not bring any value that I can see," said Larry Campbell, chief of information management and technology for DAI, a U.S. firm that delivers international aid development.
DAI has 110 offices around the world, the majority in developing nations and war-torn locations like Afghanistan. Campbell said there's a stark difference between IT needs in London and IT needs in Kabul, where DAI is winding down an 800-person development project.
"In our corporate offices, we're trying to go 100% cloud offerings, with our portal, Oracle services and so on," he said. Campbell took a stab at private cloud-style data center operations, starting about three years ago with virtualization and automation. He found that while it worked fine, it didn't eliminate management headaches so much as swap old ones for news ones, like users creating virtual machines left and right, and that the environment wasn't going to scale well.
"We got to a point with our own cloud we weren't going to be able to support it without some huge upgrades," he said.
DAI instead outsourced its VMware-based virtual environment to Virtustream, an enterprise cloud provider based in Bethesda, Md., and began looking at IBM's Software as a Service LotusLive program as an update to its Lotus Notes applications, which Campbell said DAI has a 10-year investment. Between Lotus and Oracle eBusiness, which Campbell already hosted, he'll be able to push most operations out the window and the U.S. headquarters can focus on development, which does have value.
But in field offices and development projects, it's a different story. Campbell needs exactly the IT operations he's gotten rid of in the U.S. -- server hardware, software, and staff -- and they have to do it all themselves. Since the places DAI goes have no tech infrastructure, DAI has to bring it along, and remain firmly invested in knowing how to do IT operations. Campbell said he sends talented systems administrators overseas and cloud computing is an entirely do-it-yourself affair.
Other companies will stick with infrastructure they have and adopt a hybrid approach. Ryan Creasey, systems engineer at IGN Entertainment, said the online media services company was running its own operations for its GameSpy service for two reasons: its parent company News Corp told them to and Creasey got a great deal of benefit from being able to see directly into his infrastructure.
"We have a lot of investment in our networking and storage back end already," Creasey said. "It's very performant and our engineers get a lot of visibility."
Creasey said being able to actually investigate performance and traffic patterns at the infrastructure level allows them to build with more confidence than if everything lived in Amazon's S3 service. Gamespy has a large installed base of Windows Server, the storage is built on iSCSI and NFS and that's pretty cut and dried. But in S3, there's no way to tell what it runs on or why it might be momentarily slow (or fast). This lack of insight frustrates engineers trying to build real-time response applications.
GameSpy also uses Opscode Hosted Chef for provisioning and automating servers (mostly Windows), a service that lets Creasey create scripts, templates and "cookbooks" to take care of scaling demands. He uses a public cloud service to run his private cloud, essentially. "Once we got everything 'Chef-ized,' what we were able to do was pretty amazing," he said.
Why not just dump everything in a public cloud? Services like RightScale make heavy use of Chef and could offer the same end results, but Creasey said that splitting out domain expertise is where it's at. He is good at running Windows servers and networked storage. Opscode, which invented and maintains open-source Chef, is good at running Chef servers.
Compartmentalizing and separating ownership actually makes it easier to think about Infrastructure as a Service, Creasey said.
Babysitting a data center does not bring any value that I can see.
Larry Campbell, chief of information management and technology, DAI
Not ready for a commitment to cloud
Vendors, for their part, are perfectly aware of the differentiation in IT needs and drivers between providers and enterprises. That might be one reason so many feel comfortable 'cloudwashing' or blurring the functional definitions of cloud computing until it fits the bill for what they're selling enterprises.
Omar Sultan, senior manager of data center architecture at Cisco Systems Inc., said most of its customers run VMware and some management tools and consider that their cloud. Along with updates to its UCS hardware line, Cisco has a philosophical direction on cloud computing that assumes enterprises will be hybrid models long term.
Sultan said that enterprise customers were continually impressed by the rise of massively scaled and automated IT environments like AWS. They were not, however, really able to make the end-to-end cloud model work within their own environments, as they are constrained by legacy systems and business needs that do not prioritize or reward an investment in new technology.
"It's like high school when everyone else gets invited to a big party and you think you're somehow uncool because you aren't at the party," he said. "'Look at what those guys are doing, oh man.'" Eventually you grow out of it, said Sultan, and realize that missing one party might not have been the end of the world.
Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.