The Absurdity of Cloud Computing and Hosted Services

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dan Dieterle

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I’ve seen some crazy things in the IT world in the last 5 of my 20 years of experience in the field, but the push to move to cloud computing and hosted services has got to be the craziest thing I have seen so far. Please let me explain.

Times are bad right now, and companies are making hard decisions about their IT staffing and services.

Somehow in the last 5 – 10 years or so, IT support seems to have gone from a mission critical status to being considered overhead. As other departments have had to do, significantly reduced IT departments are now supporting more devices, services and people with fewer staff.

As with other departments, older IT staff members have been “encouraged out the door” and replaced with fewer, lesser experienced staff. I have seen Unix server administrators put in charge of administrating Windows servers, even though they had no experience supporting them. Not sure of the executive thinking there – they are both servers, so they must be the same?

I have seen a high end Windows cluster server administrator who kept the executive and top engineering clusters of a major corporation running for years, be moved to be the sole support person for the corporate wide NAS servers.

Though he had little to no experience with the NAS servers themselves, the storage group was dissolved beforehand and the one person remaining that he was replacing had already been placed in a new position, so there would be no training available. He was handed a user manual and told – “Good luck”.

I have seen a half empty building that was once full of corporate IT support staff. This was after several other buildings that were full of IT support staff were dissolved and consolidated into the one building.

One part of the support staff that remained was told that their work week would be changing to a swing shift. They would be working 2nd shift for part of the week and 3rd shift for the remained of the week. The supervisor had the audacity to tell these former 1st shift workers that the new schedule would be better for their families.

I was told once by a distraught IT Director that he was informed by the corporate executives that the acceptable level of IT staff to employees is now 1 to 300. With all of these employees using computers or mobile devices, what happens when more than one critical system goes down at the same time? What happens to the quality of support when IT staff is flooded with requests and “emergencies”?

These are just a few things that I have seen or heard in the last few years, trust me there are many more. But what does these cutbacks and shifting of unqualified staff to critical positions have to do with cloud computing and hosted services?

Many companies are turning to online services to help cut costs and restore some level of IT support to their organizations. But what truly makes you think that these online services are not going through the same internal cutbacks and employee changes to cut costs of their own? How secure will your information really be with them? Your level of support?

If you can’t support your own IT, and who knows your business better than you, why would you think that external services can really do a better job? Don’t get me wrong, cloud computing and hosted services aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

But making the decision solely for additional profit is not a wise move. Executive level decision makers really need to talk with (and listen to) their senior IT leadership to see if the move to hosted services would truly be a benefit or detriment to their company.

Cross-posted from Cyber Arms

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Jonathan Davis Hi Dan,

You are right about companies foolishly cutting back on Support resources. But I think you are wrong taking aim at Cloud Computing as a phenomenon and for suggesting that outsourcing to MSPs is "crazy".

Cloud experts have long warned that Cloud Computing is a way to improve agility and clear some process backlogs, but it can worsen the support / IT management situation if not implemented carefully.*

Companies get more infrastructure bang for their buck, but they fall victim to what you describe here: failing to account for how they will support and operate the new services their new cloud platforms allow them to build and launch so fast.

There is flawed assumption in your article. Because you see cutbacks in many companies, it does not necessarily mean that other companies are inevitably understaffed and operating at high risk. It is certainly not true of the company I work for.

The point about Cloud Computing and outsourcing in general, is specialisation. Specialisation always implies efficiencies. Its as true in nature (evolution) as it is in economics.

What you see in the cloud space is companies - often software focussed - outsourcing their (cloud based) infrastructure operations to specialists, so that they can focus on building their software or services, not struggling to keep systems up and scaling properly.

The craziness you describe - "cutbacks and shifting of unqualified staff to critical positions" - is a consequence of bad management or economic realities.

The only relation to Cloud computing is that Cloud computing has allowed companies to survive when they should have sunk under the cost of infrastructure and it has allowed some new companies to be created that previously would not have been viable.

By outsourcing to competent experts, the shift to cloud is the opposite of the problem you describe. It puts qualified experts in charge of critical systems, whilst lowering the cost of operations, so allowing better investment is product support and R&D.

* See my article "Cloud Computing’s Support Challenges" for some examples -
http://shar.es/2Ubkc
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Dan Dieterle Jonathan, honestly the whole push for the cloud reminds me of something else that happened in the computer world years ago.

For those who remember, when Microsoft first decided to get into the client/server market, their main competition at the time was Novell.

The first MS server software was horrible compared to Novell, but MS had an awesome marketing team. They simply out-marketed Novell.

Heck I remember when I was taking the early MSCSE exams, we were told when taking the test that though certain features did not even work in NT until service pack 3, we were to pretend that they worked right out of the gate for the test.

I see something very similar happening here and now with the cloud. Recent industry polls show that while people are starting to embrace the cloud, the majority still don't trust it. And with great reason.

The strongest most vocal proponents for moving to the cloud seem to be those who have invested interest in it.

Will the cloud become a major part of future IT, yes it will. Like NT, it really has it's issues now, but in time the kinks will get worked out.

But to think that hosting companies are not going through the same cutbacks and changes that you are, or to think that your data will be more secure, or more available (at this time), is, well absurd.

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Jonathan Davis Hi Dan,

Of course there is buzz, bunk and snake oil in the cloud world.

But that does not nullify the very real benefit that cloud offers.

I literally see it every day.

And I take exception to the charge that everyone is going through cutbacks. That may be true generally, but it is not in the cloud services arena. That is a growth area.

And bear in mind something else. You are describing a situation where execs are cutting a cost centre. They say "IT, do more with less".

For Cloud Services firms, where they are selling a fast growing service, IT is the profit centre. Most companies realise that investment in sufficient staff is critical to success.

The biggest problem in cloud services is not cutbacks, but growing pains.
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Marc Quibell I think this article is more about outsourcing than it is about the actual benefits (flexibility, accessibility...etc) of Cloud Computing. It should be important to note however that outsourcing anything results in a rise of risks associated with service interruptions and quility of service. Sure, you can have SLAs, but it's the things you don't see, the things no one is no longer taking care of that you will lose. Diligence.
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Dan Dieterle Exactly Marc!

Also, though all companies offering services may not be the same, customer support seems to be a dying (if not dead) art.

Has anyone had to contact an online service provider for tech support? I was told by one recently, once I actually got to a person, that they only have about 100 support people and millions of online clients...

This week I was having problems with a large named company that offers cloud services. Things were not showing up right in the interface. I figured it out yesterday, but just got an e-mail today from their tech support with instructions on how to reset my password?!?!?

I think things will come out in the wash, but I still believe that mission critical computing needs should be taken care of internally.
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Jonathan Davis Dan that is one of the drivers of Private Clouds. You get to have the technological benefits of (public) cloud but you keep the services under your own management.
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Marc Quibell LOL! Nice Dan! I agree 100%.
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