You’d think as we head into the waning months of 2011 that there’d be little left to discuss regarding the definition of cloud IT. Well, not quite yet.
Having spent a lot of time with clients working on their cloud strategies and planning, I’ve come to learn that the definition of cloud IT is fundamentally different depending on your perspective. Note that I am using “cloud IT” and not “cloud computing” to make it clear I’m talking only about IT services and not consumer Internet services.
Users of cloud IT – those requesting and getting access to cloud resources – define clouds by the benefits they derive. All those NIST-y terms like resource pooling, rapid elasticity, measured service, etc. can sound like gibberish to users. Self-service is just a feature – but users need to understand the benefits. For a user – cloud IT is about control, flexibility, improved productivity, (potentially) lower costs, and greater transparency. There are other benefits, perhaps – but these are commonly what I hear.
For providers – whether internal IT groups or commercial service providers – cloud IT means something entirely different. First and foremost, it’s about providing services that align with the benefits valued by users described above. Beyond that, cloud IT is about achieving the benefits of mass production and automation, a “factory IT” model that fundamentally and forever changes the way we deliver IT services. In fact, factory IT (McKinsey blog) is a far better term to describe what we call cloud today when you’re talking to service providers.
Factory IT standardizes on a reasonable number of standard configurations (service catalog), automates repetitive processes (DevOps), then manages and monitors ongoing operations more tightly (management). Unlike typical IT, with it’s heavily manual processes and hand-crafted custom output, factory IT generates economies of scale that produce more services in a given time period, at a far lower marginal cost per unit of output.
Delivering these economies end-to-end is where self-service comes in. Like a vending machine, you put your money (or budget) in, make a selection, and out pops your IT service. Without factory IT, self service – and the control, transparency, productivity and other benefits end users value – would not be possible.
Next time someone asks you to define cloud, make sure you understand which side of the cloud they are standing on before you answer.