I attended a great session on cloud computing last week at the University Club's Cathedral Hall sponsored by the DePaul College of Computing and Digital Media. If you have never seen this room, you should attend an event there just to see this place.
The panel included vendor and corporate IT executives from Google, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Accenture, Transunion and other esteemed organizations. The surprising big idea I took away was that cloud computing is shifting the balance of power away from IT and toward business leaders.
In fact, the panel agreed that more CIOs are coming from the business side of the house as cloud computing makes deploying technology more of a switch-flipping business operations exercise and less of a black art. What this means for corporate IT leaders is that they need to make sure they are managing this shift proactively and providing speed and flexibility to handle this new infrastructure; not being seen as the speed bump by the business stakeholders.
ROI for cloud computing is not about lowering IT spend. It's really a wash. You are really just trading capital expenditure costs for more predictable recurring monthly costs.
Speed and agility is the real business benefit from cloud computing when a business opportunity arises, you can spin up servers or a whole platform and react instantly. If it is a short term opportunity, you can spin up the servers, capitalize and then power them down when you are done -- without any capital expenditures or long term commitment. This allows companies to be more nimble and innovative.
Paying for just what you use is another big advantage of cloud computing. Annual performance reviews were cited as an example. In the old world, IT would deploy two servers available 24x7x365 to handle typical load for the performance review application. The real-world business issue is that the performance review application and servers sit idle for 50 weeks until the frantic two-week push by managers to get all review done so bonuses get paid. During this crunch, peak load would require the equivalent of 17 servers. Oops, the COO just spent 30 minutes entering performance review data and the app timed out due to server overload. If the performance review application was running in the cloud, the infrastructure could scale dynamically to meet the demand spike, avoiding the call from the COO.
Virtualization and outsourcing to managed service providers is pushing a shift in the corporate IT demographic away from server wranglers toward more business analysts and network engineers that have skill managing hybrid environments that include internal clouds, private clouds and public clouds. Can you say, single sign-on and network security?
At the end of the session, I talked to a tenured professor who told me he enjoyed molding young minds. I couldn't resist asking him if that was a manufacturing or chemical analogy. But that is a different story.