So, following up from my last post, do I think mainframes were the first private clouds? In a word, no. However, I think there are some key lessons to be learned from the era of big iron computing for organizations looking to roll out private clouds today.
While a lot of the technology is the same (virtualization, clustering, shared resources), there are some significant differences, including the rapidity of re-provisioning (think weeks or months), responsiveness to end user requests (there wasn’t), and the ability to self-provision (ha!).
I guess my point is that the shift to private cloud is less about technology and more about how you run your IT shop. I cannot take credit for this insight–my compatriot James Urquhart made this point about a year ago. However, when chatting with customers, many of them still tend to see this as a technology led transition and not a people/process-led transition. The risk at the end of the day is that you end up with cloud infrastructure missing some of the key benefits of private cloud computing–you may see improved agility but might not see the TCO reductions you were expecting.
So, operationally, there are a couple of things I think we can learn from the days of IBM and DEC big iron:
Break out the Excel. Because everything was so expensive, we had to make sure we squeezed every last bit of use out of a piece of hardware. There was no “just throw hardware at it” mentality because most companies simply could not afford that approach. For private cloud to really return business results, IT organizations need to be able to bring back this kind of discipline–be able to maximize utilization and avoid band-aid fixes. Some of it is making sure you invest in the right level of instrumentation for your data center and some of this developing the operational capabilities to be able to do the analysis and planning. Of any group in the data center, the storage folks seem to have the best handle on this–perhaps because it seems like many of them are ex-mainframers.
Kick your customers out of the data center. Back in the day, going to the IT department often seemed like a trip to the soup nazi–you made a request and you got what you got. End users would seldom dare to offer an opinion about infrastructure–it was certainly frustrating for end users, but at the end of the day, IT’s level of control kept things running smoothly. In the interim years, as the power shifted to end-users for infrastructure decisions, chaos has ensued in the data center with the resultant spiraling of infrastructure TCO. At some point, you need move your customers back out of the infrastructure business. However, instead of doing it with a big stick, do it with trust. As you start freeing up cycles for you team, have them start engaging with your customers to learn their business–become consultants. If your customers believe you truly understand their needs and can trust you to address those needs, they will be more willing to get out of the infrastructure business–they have enough other things on their collective plates to worry about.
So, there are a couple of things to chew on. Perhaps they clicked for you or perhaps they did not. Either way, if you are looking at cloud solutions, either public or private, make sure you spend at least as much time on the operational aspects as you do on the technology and vendor selection.
PS Since John and Fred were the only ones brave enough to offer comments on the last post, they will be getting the aforementioned prizes.