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IT Operations: Beware the Cloud Boomerang

By Bernard Golden, CIO
April 01, 2010 02:22 PM ET

CIO - I was talking to a colleague who works for a large technology vendor. His company offers products to enable IT organizations to construct cloud infrastructures inside their own data centers - to turn existing stable, static computing environments into ones that support scalability, agility, and dynamic applications. The company's progress on its products has been impressive, early implementations successful, and interest from their customer base (infrastructure groups within large IT organizations) high. However, he shared an apprehension with me regarding product adoption. "I'm concerned that while our customers are working on a very deliberate plan that will take a couple of years - doing their research, performing a pilot, evaluating the economics, making the capital investment business case - that the apps side of the house will just charge ahead using on-demand public cloud providers like Amazon." While he was worried about this trend from the point of view of how it will affect the prospects for his company's products, my mind moved toward a different outcome: the boomerang.

With regard to the issue he's worried about, my sense is that his concern is quite valid. Many software engineers have moved to cloud environments for development due to immediate resource availability and low cost. It's widespread. I noted in a blog post a few months ago my amusement regarding one large software vendor's senior executive's rant. He and I were both on a cloud computing panel and in his remarks he railed against developers using Amazon, citing intellectual property concerns. After the panel was over, as the participants were chit-chatting, he said that he found it frustrating because developers in his own company were using Amazon quite widely, despite being warned against it, because it was so much easier than getting computing resources through the official channels. The phrase "hoisted on one's own petard" sprang to my mind.

Some proportion of these engineers end up passing their cloud costs on in the form of expense reports. Some don't bother, feeling the $30 or $40 per month is something they're willing to absorb in the interests of getting their job done.

But there's no question that lots and lots of development is going on in the cloud. Indeed, most analysts and consultants recommend "dev/test" as a good initial candidate for cloud use.

But what does this have to do with a boomerang?

Actually, what came to my mind was the phrase " boomerang generation," referring to the recent phenomenon of adult children moving back into their parents' home. The parents, who never imagined that they would have to take care of their grown kids, find themselves burdened with ongoing responsibility for their offspring. While many chafe at the duty, most end up taking it on, feeling they have no way to abjure the duty.

And here's how I think IT operations will experience what I call the "cloud boomerang."

As engineers finalize their application development work in the cloud, there will be pressure to "put it into production." Many of these applications will subtly, even surreptitiously, migrate from development through "trial" to production. I've certainly witnessed this plenty of times. I was once assigned to lead development of a new release of a product on a crash basis because the previous version - a development prototype never intended for anything but internal testing - had been released and was in customer production use and, as one might expect, wasn't robust enough.

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