Private vs. Public Cloud is all about Friction

There has been plenty of discussion on using private cloud to battle Shadow IT. The idea is simple. If you give developers the same flexibility as public cloud, then there will be no need for individual departments to run to public cloud providers such as Amazon. Matt Asay has put forward that private clouds are failing and only old luddites are holding on to private infrastructure. The appearance of slow adoption or acceptance doesn’t surprise me. Greg Ferro of the popular network podcast PacketPushers points to the deep computer science skills needed for private cloud to succeed. In a recent podcast, he theorizes one of the reasons for the lack of adoption is the lack of skilled individuals in the enterprise. Beyond skill set, I believe the challenge is much more simple – Friction.

Shadow IT isn’t a new challenge for enterprise information technology groups. Since the dawn of the PC Era, individual departments have subverted the IT group to get the technology needed to support business objectives. In the 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon for marketing groups to go out and purchase Macintosh desktops for the entire department while the PC was the corporate standard. An industry group once engaged me to upgrade a Novell server that was dedicated to a marketing group because the IT department didn’t have the in-house skill.

The commonality between today and yesterday’s shadow IT was the elimination of any support from formal IT department. Once a department receives funding for a project they are free to select any technology that meets the projects requirement. There’s no need to go through the red tape established by the IT department. Traditional IT departments have engineering review boards, change controls, security reviews, and compliance overhead.  Departments that sourced IT themselves don’t have the friction. The ideas can go from drawing board to production in weeks opposed to months or years. Each department feels very much like a start-up.

The Frictionless IT Experience

The major difference between the early days of shadow IT and public cloud is the increased reduction of friction. Implementation of Shadow IT services pre-public cloud required departments to engage service providers such as myself. The network was also a barrier. It would be difficult for a network administrator to miss a new Novell Server on the wire. The points of friction no longer exist with public cloud. If the marketing department wants to create a new e-mail campaign with a custom e-mail domain, then it’s a credit card and a few clicks away.

The frictionless IT experience exists in other cloud services as well. If the business development team wants to collaborate with a startup on the other side of the world, then it’s as simple as hitting the share button in Google Docs and adding an e-mail address. If someone has the skill to setup a new iPhone then you have the skill to purchase and consume public cloud resources.

Scaling is the challenge

There’s no magic in private or public cloud. Neither technology directly solves the problem of removing friction while providing organizational scale. Organization scale is the term I use to describe the very reasons bureaucracy exists. It’s simple to create systems in a vacuum. If a department needs to collaborate on a design with a business partner, then Google Docs will more than meet the technical and business requirements. It’s when the group needs to collaborate with multiple partners including internal groups and leverage enterprise data such as worldwide manufacturing schedules. How do you connect the systems and ensure the intellectual property isn’t leaked?

Shadow IT groups will have two options in answering the scale question. Groups either create the systems and oversight or engage their IT organizations for help. Friction incurs in either instance. The advantages of moving from whiteboard to execution via public cloud begin to disappear as the solution scales.

Conclusion

Today, departments can go to and choose public cloud because of the lack of oversight and controls that ensure scale. However, there will be a time when they have to pay the piper. Organizations don’t have to wait. The idea of hybrid or private cloud gives the technical scale of the public cloud. The opportunity is in building the workflow into the service catalog of a hybrid cloud solution. It’s up to the technical architects to collaborate on a service catalog that fast tracks the oversight but ensures compliance. We’ll talk about the how in future posts.