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CIOs must manage changes in IT departments due to cloud computing services

Cloud computing services cast a shadow of fear over IT departments that are scrambling to change amid a flurry of business units bypassing traditional channels.

Who wants to wait two weeks for 10 signatures when they need IT equipment now or have a great idea for a business service? No one -- and that's why business units are moving past their IT department to cloud computing services, causing CIOs consternation. The solution to this problem is another C word: change.

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At the MIT CIO Symposium in Cambridge this week, CIOs on several panels zeroed in on IT's crisis of confidence and IT workers' fear that the random adoption of cloud computing services by business units presents a loss of control and portends a loss of jobs. But while the cloud no doubt will change IT, it's not all bad, CIOs and industry analysts said. The topic du jour also resonated at the State of the Cloud, a recent CIO event in Boston, where headliners spoke of server-huggers needing to let go.

"There's no doubt that IT will see incredible change with the cloud," said Mike Grandinetti, managing director of Southboro Capital LLC in Sudbury, Mass., who frequently moderates cloud events. "I think the IT department shrinks. People that were server-huggers before have a lot fewer servers now." As a five-time entrepreneur, Grandinetti knows that certain people thrive on change. In the IT space, the ones who thrive will become better service providers.

Who's minding the store?
"There's a common misconception that cloud computing services are a solution to all of our sysadmin problems," said Carl Meadows, senior product manager of cloud services for The Planet, which hosts 11.1 million websites on 46,000 servers worldwide and has a free public cloud in beta.

"If anything, delivering apps to the cloud is going to demand more of your sysadmins," Meadows told attendees of the recent Cloud Expo in New York. For example, who is accountable for every element (test, recovery, patching and so forth)?

Moreover, most public cloud platforms provide zero sysadmin support, Meadows said. Some cloud providers charge for even simple platform support, and fully managed solutions typically are available only on private cloud offerings.

"The difference between classical provisioning, hosting and clouds is that in the cloud, you enable the user," said Mladen Vouk, department head, professor and associate vice provost for IT at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. The university has been in the cloud since 2004, and currently has about 2,000 blade servers open to 33,000 students and faculty. The systems have more than 800 images, but only 10 to 20 images are maintained centrally by IT; the rest are maintained by users, with between 80,000 and 120,000 image reservations being self-provisioned on demand each semester.

Getting to that level of letting go "requires a cultural change that does not happen very easily -- and is much harder for professionals than for end users," Vouk said. "The resistance that we have encountered over and over again is trying to convince people that IT jobs are not going away, but that they're going to be more productive in providing services than lugging computers around."

A change in IT skills

At the MIT symposium, talk centered on the soft skills -- communication and trust -- needed for this organizational transformation. "It's a people issue," said Trae Chancellor, vice president of enterprise strategy at Inc., based in San Francisco. "It's making people aware that they have opportunities. [The cloud] is an enabling technology for IT."

Sanjay Mirchandani, CIO of EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, Mass., who, along with Chancellor, spoke on the MIT symposium's cloud computing services panel, said EMC is opening up a raft of new job titles to support cloud efforts: application architect, security architect and process engineers, to name a few. "You've got to make people in IT understand there is tremendous opportunity," he concurred.

Inevitably, however, there will be shrinkage, according to Jeff Kaplan, managing director of Thinkstrategies Inc., a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. "IT grew because of the complexities," he said. "With fewer complexities, there is less demand" for traditional IT skills. However, there will be need for new skills in terms of evaluating and using cloud technologies and services, different kinds of software development, and business analysis and vendor management, he said.

You've got to make people in IT understand there is tremendous opportunity.
Sanjay Mirchandani
"Hopefully, IT will become more strategic than tactical," Kaplan said. "Technology has done it to almost every industry in the past, and now is eating its own. CIOs need to change, to be more open-minded about business requirements and vendor management."

For one company on the MIT symposium's cloud computing services panel, the change in IT didn't happen amid a tide of fear, but in a stampede to become part of the excitement. "We have 11,000 developers, technologists and scientists, and their embracing of the cloud was tremendous," said Michael Kirwan, CIO of Yahoo in Sunnyvale, Calif. "We had to put a process in place because everyone wanted to jump on day one, and it was necessary to tamp down some enthusiasm as opposed to an uncontrolled migration."

Managing clouds of IT change

Panelists at both the MIT CIO Symposium and the State of the Cloud conference had specific advice for IT executives managing the change that comes with cloud computing:

  • It's important to be engaged with the business teams so you're not surprised by their provision of cloud services, said James McGlennon, senior vice president and CIO of Liberty Mutual Group, an insurance provider based in Dover, N.H. "I don't have a problem with them using whatever it is. We have cloud services; it's the next evolution of things that have been there forever."
  • The cloud demonstrates "what an important part communication is to the CIO job," said Anne Margulies, CIO of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Communication is essential at all levels, including the vendor community" so they don't bypass the CIO and sell directly to business units. "Communicate with users and executives," she advised. "It's a relationship-based job."
  • "In some cases, we let people fail," said North Carolina State's Vouk. "People did their own clouds, set up VMware and discovered there was nothing to manage it. Then they came back and said, 'I'm sorry.'"

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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