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Lori MacVittie

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Get Out Your Dice! It's Time for a Game of Datacenters and Dragons

The All New Revised Fifth Edition of the Popular Real-Life Fantasy Game

It’s the all new revised fifth edition of the popular real-life fantasy game we call Datacenters and Dragons.

DM (Datacenter Manager): “Through the increasingly cloudy windows of the datacenter you see empty racks and abandoned servers where once there were rumored to be blinking lights and application consoles. Only a few brave and stalwart applications remain, somehow immune to the siren-like call of the Cloud Empire through the ancient and long forgotten secret rituals found only in the now-lost COBOL copybook. As you stand, awestruck at the destructive power of the Empire, a shadow falls across the remaining rack, dimming the few remaining fluorescent lights. It is…a cloud dragon. As you stand, powerless to move in your abject terror, the cloud dragon breathes on another rack and its case dissolves. A huge claw lifts the application server and clutches it to its breast, another treasure to add to its growing hoard. And then, just as you are finally able to move, it reaches out with the other claw and bats aside the operators with a powerful blow, scattering them beyond the now ethereal walls of the datacenter. Then it turns its cloudy eye on you and rears back, drawing in its breath as it prepares to breathe on you. Roll initiative.”

The cries of “Change or die” and “IT is dead” and “cloud is a threat to IT” are becoming more and more common across the greater kingdoms of IT, pitting cloud as the evil dragon that you will either agree to serve as part of a much larger, nebulous empire known as ‘the cloud’ or you’ll find yourself asking “would you like fries with that?”

According to some industry pundits, cloud computing has already passed from the realm of hype into a technology that is seriously impacting the business of IT. The basis for such claims point to small organizations for whom cloud computing makes the most sense (at least early on) and at large organizations like HP who are reducing the size of their IT staff based on their cloud computing efforts.

IT as we know it, some say, is doomed*.

Yet surveys and research conducted in the past year show a very different story – cloud computing is an intriguing option that is more interesting as a way to transform IT into a more efficient business resource than it is as an off-premise, wash-your-hands of the problem outsourcing option. In fact, a Vanson Bourne survey pdf-icon conducted on behalf of cloud provider RackSpace shows a very different story; at the beginning of 2009 less than 1/3 of small businesses were even considering cloud computing and only 11 percent of UK mid-sized businesses were using cloud as part of their strategy, though more than half indicated cloud would be incorporated in the future.


But let’s say that organizations decide to outsource their IT “plumbing” as it’s so often analogized (to the point of being cliché). How, exactly, will the business folks actually access their outsourced applications? Will bring your own laptop (growing in popularity to reduce costs in some organizations) become bring your own Internet, as well? Will businesses suddenly decide to completely distribute responsibility for end-point security and protection, desktop configuration and maintenance, as well as enforcement and implementation of any compliance-related technical activities to its users?

Of course not. That’s just crazy talk. As is the notion of IT becoming little more than a technology broker, matching cloud computing applications with business stakeholders like some sort of dating service. The cries of doom and disaster and fear-mongering are little more than FUD and sensationalism with an emphasis on hyperbolic predictions as a means to garner attention.

That’s not saying that cloud computing and outsourcing will not transform IT. It will, but not necessarily in a bad way. That’s also not claiming that a reduction in staff is not in the future for many organizations; a reduction that can and will likely be traced back to a cloud computing implementation. But it won’t completely destroy IT, nor will it completely change the role of IT as some have predicted. IT is certainly in for some transformative changes, but that’s in the roles and responsibilities, a la the shift toward devops. It’s in the relationship between IT and the business, a la the brokerage and service offerings that will be a part of IT, but will not completely erase the operational role currently fulfilled by IT.

Using HP as an example of the future – or lack thereof - of enterprise datacenters is not a good idea. The first reason is that most enterprises aren’t attempting to integrate and align a massive acquisition that brought nearly 137,000 employees to the organization. In that context, eliminating 9000 positions (while creating 6000 others, mind you) is not nearly the death knell for IT and systems administrators some would make it out to be. Secondly, most enterprise organizations, particularly those that fall in the Fortune 500, are more interested in the hours they’ll get back from leveraging cloud computing – both off and on-premise than on getting rid of staff. That’s because their IT staff is overburdened already, and that’s a good portion of the reason they can’t properly service the business to the business’ high expectations. Cloud promises to return some of those hours and give IT the chance to meet and even exceed those expectations. They aren’t likely to be getting rid of huge swaths of their IT departments just because they finally managed to get their workload under control.

The world in which cloud dragons abscond with all of IT, leaving IT professionals to enter the service of the cloud empire and manage access instead of servers is just that: fantasy. It isn’t reality let alone realistic given the complexity of applications, their interrelationships with each other and their supporting network infrastructure, and the relative immaturity of cloud.

When cloud computing becomes more than just capacity on-demand; when providers put the infrastructure in Infrastructure as a Service, then it might be time for operators who haven’t embraced devops or cloud and updated their skills to start dusting off their character sheets resumes.

But I’m guessing it’ll be many, many more revisions and editions of Datacenters & Dragons before that comes to pass.

* Seriously – if you hang out on Twitter long enough you’ll see someone suddenly shout: “Cloud computing will change everything, those who do not understand this will perish!

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.