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Cloud culture shock may impede IT business value

While culture shock in the cloud is a common problem, it can -- and should -- be overcome for IT to deliver the most business value.

LAS VEGAS -- Gurus from big IT shops preached to the masses about their experiences moving large organizations to cloud computing, and said while cloud culture shock is a common problem, it can -- and should -- be overcome.

Presentations at the Cloud Connect Summit here this week emphasized that cultural change, while painful, has become mandatory for IT to bring value to businesses through cloud computing migration.

There's always been a disconnect between the speed at which IT systems can be delivered and the pace at which business changes.

Jonathan Murray,
CTO, Warner Music Group

"We can build systems in a fundamentally different way than we did in the past," said Jonathan Murray, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Warner Music Group. "We've never really had that opportunity; there [has] always been a disconnect between the speed at which IT systems can be delivered and the pace at which business changes."

But the industry has now reached a point where those two things can come together, Murray said.

This means that as technology changes, it must be accompanied by a shift in mentality, according to Adrian Cockcroft, Netflix's former cloud architect who now serves as a technology fellow at Battery Ventures.

For example, random seeks on hard disk drives used to be computationally expensive -- until the emergence of solid-state drives. Suddenly, storage IOPS went from a scarce to an abundant resource.

"If you take something that has been expensive for a long time, everyone knows it's expensive and all the systems around it [are] expensive. And if all of a sudden it becomes cheap, what happens is, some company that notices this expensive thing is now cheap figures out how to disrupt the rest of the industry," Cockcroft said.

Similarly, getting a machine used to be difficult. Now Netflix can stand up 1,000 machines in five minutes – and that's something that's not beyond the grasp of enterprises, as well, Cockcroft said.

"From an architectural point of view, build out simple patterns, put tooling around them, and let developers and operations people adopt them," Cockcroft told attendees. "You don't really need to have a central architecture that enforces patterns. That actually stifles innovation."

Murray also advocated a radical departure from legacy IT as organizations embrace cloud computing.

"You've got to let go of the past," he said. "Put legacy [systems] on life support." In other words, minimize their budgets and invest resources in building completely new apps, Murray said.

In his organization, one line of business system running on an IBM AS400 will be shut down 18 months from now, and the application has already transitioned to a new platform, he said.

Cultural change is also part of a transition to cloud at Target Corp., where IT must strike a balance between governance and the kind of "freedom and responsibility culture" cited by Cockcroft.

This means "swallowing some bitter truths," according to Mayuresh Shintre, cloud platform architect for the retail chain. Among them is the fact that the "enterprise was clearly not top of mind when public cloud providers built their offerings."

But instead of enforcing strict governance on every layer of the IT stack, developers must have freedom to take advantage of the public cloud's flexibility, Shintre said

"Don't let operations alone run your cloud management platform decision [process]," he said. "Start from the bottom up instead of the top down; invest in infrastructure as code first and then think about the control plane."

Ultimately, disparate groups of people within the enterprise must increase their collaboration, experts here said.

This is easier said than done.

"It's a challenge finding the right people who like each other and want to work on these teams," said Scott Carlson, cloud infrastructure architect at PayPal.

Statistics also told the story of how difficult these transitions can be. About 58% of enterprises that the Everest Group surveyed spend more than 10% of their budget on cloud computing today, and a recent Forrester Research stat showed 86% of enterprise workloads still do not run in clouds.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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Is your company experiencing cloud culture shock?
I don't know if "culture shock" is the right phrase, but yes, there are bumps along the way. I think that that's probably true of any major shift in technologies.