Lightweight Provisioning != Lightweight Process

Congratulations, you’ve virtualized (or gone to public cloud IaaS) and have the ability to instantly and easily provision capacity.

Now, stop and shoot yourself in the foot by not implementing a lightweight procurement process to go with your lightweight provisioning technology.

That’s all too common of a story, and it highlights a critical aspect of movement towards a cloud (or just ‘cloudier’ concepts). In many organizations, it’s not actually the provisioning that’s expensive and lengthy. It’s the process that goes with it.

You’ll probably have heard that it can take weeks or months for an enterprise to provision a server. You might even work for an organization where that’s true. You might also have heard that it takes thousands of dollars to do so, and your organization might have a chargeback mechanism that makes that the case for your department.

Except that it doesn’t actually take that long, and it’s actually pretty darn cheap, as long as you’re large enough to have some reasonable level of automation (mid-sized businesses and up, or technology companies with more than a handful of servers). Even with zero automation, you can buy a server and have it shipped to you in a couple of days, and build it in an afternoon.

What takes forever is the procurement process, which may also be heavily burdened with costs.

When most organizations virtualize, they usually eliminate a lot of the procurement process — getting a VM is usually just a matter of requesting one, rather than going through the whole rigamarole of justifying buying a server. But the “request a VM” process can be anything from a self-service portal to something with as much paperwork headache as buying a server — and the cost-savings and the agility and efficiency that an organization gains from virtualizing is certainly dependent upon whether they’re able to lighten their process for this new world.

There are certain places where the “forever to procure, at vast expense” problems are notably worse. For instance, subsidiaries in companies that have centralized IT in the parent company often seem to get shafted by central IT — they’re likely to tell stories of an uncaring central IT organization, priorities that aren’t aligned with their own, and nonsensical chargeback mechanisms. Moreover, subsidiaries often start out much more nimble and process-light than a parent company that acquired them, which leads to the build-up of frustration and resentment and an attitude of being willing to go out on their own.

And so subsidiaries — and departments of larger corporations — often end up going rogue, turning to procuring an external cloud solution, not because internal IT cannot deliver a technology solution that meets their needs, but because their organization cannot deliver a process that meets their needs.

When we talk about time and cost savings for public cloud IaaS vs. the internal data center, we should be careful not to conflate the burden of (internal, discardable/re-engineerable) process, with what technology is able to deliver.

Note that this also means that fast provisioning is only the beginning of the journey towards agility and efficiency. The service aspects (from self-service to managed service) are much more difficult to solve.

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Posted on May 25, 2010, in Infrastructure and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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