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Symposium, Smart Control, and cloud computing

I originally wrote this right after Orlando Symposium and forgot to post it.

Now that Symposium is over, I want to reflect back on the experiences of the week. Other than the debate session that I did (Eric Knipp and I arguing the future of PaaS vs. IaaS), I spent the conference in the one-on-one room or meeting with customers over meals. And those conversations resonated in sharp and sometimes uncomfortable ways with the messages of this year’s Symposiums.

The analyst keynote said this:

An old rule for an old era: absolute centralized IT control over technology people, infrastructure, and services. Rather than fight to regain control, CIOs and IT Leaders must transform themselves from controllers to influencers; from implementers to advisers; from employees to partners. You own this metamorphosis. As an IT leader, you must apply a new rule, for a new era: Smart Control. Open the IT environment to a Wild Open World of unprecedented choice, and better balance cost, risk, innovation and value. Users can achieve incredible things WITHOUT you, but they can only maximize their IT capabilities WITH you. Smart Control is about managing technology in tighter alignment with business goals, by loosening your grip on IT.

The tension of this loss of control, was by far the overwhelming theme of my conversations with clients at Symposium. Since I cover cloud computing, my topic was right at the heart of the new worries. Data from a survey we did earlier this year showed that less than 50% of cloud computing projects are initiated by IT leadership.

Most of the people that I talked to strongly held one of two utterly opposing beliefs: that cloud computing was going to be the Thing of the Future and the way they and their companies would consume IT in the future, and that cloud computing would be something that companies could never embrace. My mental shorthand for the extremes of these positions is “enthusiastic embrace” and “fear and loathing”.

I met IT leaders, especially in mid-sized business, who were tremendously excited by the possibilities of the cloud to free their businesses to move and innovate in ways that they never had before, and to free IT from the chores of keeping the lights on in order to help deliver more busines value. They understood that the technology in cloud is still fairly immature, but they wanted to figure out how they could derive benefits right now, taking smart risks to develop some learnings, and to deliver immediate business value.

And I also met IT leaders who fear the new world and everything it represents — a loss of control, a loss of predictability, an emphasis on outcomes rather than outputs, the need to take risks to obtain rewards. These people were looking for reasons not to change — reasons that they could take back to the business for why they should continue to do the things they always have, perhaps with some implementation of a “private cloud”, in-house.

The analyst keynote pointed out: The new type of CIO won’t ask first what the implementation cost is, or whether something complies with the architecture, but whether it’s good for the enterprise. They will train their teams to think like a business executive, asking first, “is this valuable”? And only then asking, “how can we make this work”? Rather than the other way around.

Changing technologies is often only moderately difficult. Changing mindsets, though, is an enormous challenge.

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More on Symposium 1-on-1s

My calendar for one-on-ones at Symposium is now totally full, as far as I know, so here’s a look at some updated stats:

Cloud 23
Colocation 9
Hosting 9

(No overlaps above. Things have been disambiguated. This counts only the formal 1-on-1s, and not any other meetings I’m doing here.)

The hosting discussions have a very strong cloud flavor to them, as one might expect. The broad trend from today is that most people talking about cloud infrastructure here are really talking about putting individual production applications on virtualized infrastructure in a managed hosting environment, with at least some degree of capacity flexibility. But at the same time, this is a good thing for service provider — it clearly illustrates that people are comfortable putting highly mission-critical, production applications on shared infrastructure.

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Symposium 1-on-1 trends

My 1-on-1 schedule is filling rapidly. (People who didn’t pre-book, you’re in luck: I was only added to the system on Friday or so, so I still have openings, at least as of this writing.)

Trend-watchers might be interested in how these break down so far:
17 on cloud
8 on colocation
4 on hosting
2 on CDN

(A few of these mention two topics, such as ‘colo and cloud’, and are counted twice above.)

Slightly over half the cloud 1-on-1s so far are about cloud strategy in general; the remainder are about infrastructure specifically.

What’s also interesting to me is that the 1-on-1s scheduled prior to on-site registration appear to be more about colocation and hosting, but the on-site 1-on-1 requests are very nearly pure cloud. I’m not sure what that signifies, although I expect the conversations may be illuminating in this regard.

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