Friday, March 14, 2014

L-Earning Your Way Up the Cloud Learning Curve

Invariably when asked what lessons I can share in cloud adoption I refer to Jurassic Park.  During the initial tour of the facility, Dr Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) sounds a warning to Jurassic Park entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough):

“You read what others had done and took the next step.  You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves”

Having spent the majority of my career in emerging technology I have found one immutable truth: you can’t leap and hop your way up the learning curve, you have to earn the knowledge for yourself.  The knowledge you earn provides the critical insights necessary to make course corrections and deliver a solution not only relevant to the existing problem, but one which becomes the foundation for the next solution.

Big public cloud providers like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft earn their knowledge every day delivering solutions to buyers in IT and the business.  In contrast most Fortune 500 companies have chosen to let others earn the knowledge by partnering with private cloud solution providers, who themselves imitate public cloud providers.   Overlooked in the analysis of public or private are the combined powers of expectation and momentum.  What the public cloud delivers today quickly becomes an expectation of the private cloud tomorrow, and momentum is widening the value gap as public cloud product cycles continually contract.  As a result private cloud solution providers are not only well behind on the learning curve, they are falling further and further behind.  This puts IT leaders, who are following the followers, in a difficult position where their only choice is to try and leap up the learning curve on their own.  The results are predictable and all too real: projects fail to meet expectations.  And as the gap grows, pent up demand is beginning to fracture the status-quo dam carefully constructed by IT leaders over the past 40 years.

So what to do?  Realizing CIO's are largely out-manned and out-gunned I figured it's time to put-up or shut-up.  So after years of referring to it in conversations and presentations, I have finally documented “Brian’s Non-Scientific But Anecdotally Accurate Cloud Learning Curve”.  These are the "Ah ha!" moments I've documented in my 10+ year journey through distributed computing in the Fortune 500, from P2P and grid to cloud.

As companies move their way up the knowledge curve they invariably make the same mistakes at the same points on their journey.  The first common mistake is not recognizing cloud is much more than just infrastructure.  Although the ability to provision servers, storage, and networks is important; it's just the foundation.  This leads to the second most common mistake which is not getting the development side of IT involved BEFORE building the "cloud".  Most private clouds at large organizations end up being little more than mass virutalization projects, unable to lead the divide to cloud because of an infrastructure centric approach.  Everything about cloud should be about the application.  After all, why does the server, storage, or network exist in the first place?  Finally the third most common mistake is companies biting off more than they can chew and trying to leap and jump their way up the curve.  Many of those infrastructure centric clouds have, in fact, tried to leap over native application development and enterprise PaaS to deliver orchestration and provisioning and brokerage.  However because the needs of the applications are ignored the scope is too narrow and tools are selected which may not meet future needs.  It's quite easy to paint oneself into a corner when painting for the first time.

Cloud Computing has rapidly emerged as the foundation of the Software Defined Enterprise.  Getting to cloud first and fast sounds compelling.  In reality the path to cloud nirvana is littered by the hollowed out shells of failed projects, primarily due to companies trying to jump the learning curve like John Hammond and derive the benefit without earning the knowledge. 

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