How the Cloud is Commoditizing IT

Brian Baggett

by Brian Baggett

The automobile. The light bulb. The assembly line. The transistor. These are technologies that revolutionized the world but they also disrupted pre-existing industries. People who sold horses, for example, were likely not happy about the arrival of the automobile. Technology does not seek our permission before making industries obsolete. We are witnessing the transformation of the IT industry right now through cloud computing and the increasing popularity of cloud automation.

Travel back in time with me to the far away time of the early 2000’s ...

People who worked in IT for the enterprise were usually in two camps: Development and Engineering. Developers wrote code and engineering designed systems. The deployment of applications on servers meant using costly physical hardware and hiring people who knew how to manipulate the arcane configurations of operating systems. Ongoing maintenance of firmware and patching of operating systems meant long-term operational costs, support contracts from hardware vendors…in short, there was an entire industry around simply supporting the infrastructure associated with IT. Developers worried about writing code that would run, and engineering worried about providing the infrastructure to keep it going.

Around the mid-2000s, a funny thing happened: virtualization went mainstream. VMware popularized the ability to run many powerful servers in a single Intel-based server. While its critics argued that virtualization had been around for years on the mainframe, it was affordable, x86-based virtualization that was a transformative technology because it brought this technology to the masses. VMware was to virtualization as Gutenberg was to the printing press. Suddenly, affordable hypervisors enabled data centers to reduce their overall footprint. You could have thousands of servers in the same physical space that could have only held hundreds before.

Similarly, we are now witnessing another transformation with the cloud. Consider this: many organizations currently hire a network team, a storage team, a database team, a hardware team, and a platform (e.g. Linux or Windows) team, and the process to build operating environments requires a lengthy change control process. Bureaucracy and red tape can result in it taking weeks to create environments for developers. Once those servers are built and available, it is a lengthy, arduous process to reclaim those computing resources when they’re no longer needed and servers exist long beyond their use. Those servers consume power and require patching and maintenance and over years an organization can easily lose track of what servers perform which function and belong to which group. As a result, customers aren’t appropriately charged for their consumption. Additionally, over time people leave organizations and this anecdotal knowledge is lost to attrition.

However for the organization that adopts cloud technology can rid themselves of these issues. Developers in organizations that implement cloud management technologies are able to request virtual machines, load balancers, and databases with a few button clicks. Entire development environments can be provisioned in a matter of minutes and the entire environment may only exist for a couple of weeks before the resources are no longer needed and then destroyed. Change control does not become an impediment because all resources can be tracked and audited automatically. Resources can be configured to automatically be reclaimed in a certain timeframe reducing management overhead and cost.

One less apparent impact of this paradigm shift, is that people who work exclusively in IT infrastructure are going to see a reduction in need for those types of jobs and those who have the ability to automate IT and architect systems will find themselves in higher demand. Recently I was speaking to a friend of mine who works in IT infrastructure, and the topic of the cloud came up. “It’s a fad!” he said. “It’s just hosting - the same as we’ve had for years!” Of course, this isn’t true. At no point in modern computing have we had the ability to allow any end user to immediately have entire operating environments provisioned immediately and for a relatively low-cost. It is easy to dismiss the disruptive power of change, when you will be the one disrupted. As with virtualization, many companies who are not using this technology today will move to it because the cost savings will be too great for their business to ignore. It isn’t a question of “if,” so much as a question of “when.”

So what does this mean to someone who works in IT infrastructure? Are you doomed to obsolescence? Of course not. Your skills have to adapt to meet this rising technology. When building environments for customers you should always be looking for ways to simplify and automate. Do you manually assign IPs out of a spreadsheet today? Do you have to create DNS entries by hand? Do you find yourself performing the same manual steps over and over again? Seek opportunities to make processes happen without your manual intervention. Cloud management, config management, and automation/orchestration technologies like VMware vRealize Automation, VMware vRealize Orchestrator, and Chef or Puppet provide great opportunities to build your automation skills. Your organization will eventually move to this type of technology. Get ahead of the change and prepare for its arrival.

Get ready to leave the horse and buggy behind and get yourself a race car!