Thursday, August 13, 2009

Commoditization of IT Operations

My response to 'What will be commoditized by the Cloud?' made during Cloud Camp Boston was "The commoditization we're going to see in the cloud is operations". These new entrants to Cloud Computing seemed to imply that storage, networks and computers were already commodities and unless something else was being commoditized, Cloud Computing would not create sufficient value to succeed. There are other benefits to Cloud Computing, but let's stay on the IT operations aspect for now.

I'm not ready to go as far as Nichols Carr has gone in declaring IT Doesn't Matter nor what's been attributed to Thomas Siebel. Current IT practices emerged in response to the application creation/selection process. The application creation/selection process determines what IT operations must deploy in data centers to support the business. As an over-simplistic example, a company determines that they need a new CRM application. They evaluate CRM applications that were written and tested months or years earlier by an ISV for the market-at-large. The application specifies the supported hardware platform(s), software stack(s), patch level(s), network configuration(s), data access methodology(ies) and monitoring/management interface(s). Once the specific CRM application is selected and purchased, IT operations has to develop a runbook specific to the application for deployment in a specific data center(s). The various IT operations departments work together to fit the application's requirements into their existing infrastructure, and procure new, unique, or additional components, or 'one-offs'. They have to side-step other applications' conflicting requirements and 'one-offs' to complete the deployment. IT operations' job complexity has to be staggering as they deal with hundreds or thousands of deployed applications. Maybe that's why IT operations like to leave a newly deployed application untouched for months or years while they tend to the other applications.

Essential characteristics for Cloud Computing include: on-demand self-service, ubiquitous network access, location independent resource pooling, rapid elasticity, and measured service. Cloud Computing will provide these essential characteristics affordably through virtualization, automation, programmatic control and standards[1]. Applications and automated runbooks will be developed specifically for the Cloud. Programming will automate the manual work done on infrastructure (network, storage, data base, and system) and application configuration, management, monitoring, and maintenance. The automation will drive the cost of operations lower. The virtualization, automation, programmatic control and standards will commoditize IT operations. Evidence of this progress are appearing now as virtualization companies and cloud suppliers automate the allocation, configuration, monitoring, and management of infrastructure and applications.

IT operations will take back control from the applications to deliver better efficiency and lower cost through using public and private Clouds. The pressure to increase IT operations' efficiency and lower costs will be great enough that applications be re-written and automated runbooks will be developed. The historic pressure of creating 'one-offs' in IT operations for unique application requirements will fade. How many 'one-off' requests do you think Amazon has gotten since they started up AWS? I'd bet a lot. How many 'one-off' requests have Amazon implemented? I'd bet none. AWS cannot afford to make custom changes for any application. The same is likely for Google AppEngine, and Microsoft Azure. In the future, it may even be likely for IT operations.

What should we call this new world of commoditization of IT operations? What about OPS 2.0? OPS 2.0 fits along side Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, and Everything 2.0, doesn't it?

[1] No standards exist and are likely years away. The industry will likely generate many competing ways of doing Cloud Computing before an a priori or de facto standard comes about. Industry-wide efficiency and cost savings won't be possible until then.

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