Let’s All Dance the Cloud Two-Step

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a great dancer. Yet I have recently become a proponent of a technology strategy that I have coined the “cloud two-step.” The cloud two-step is the way enterprise IT departments are going to dance their way to better infrastructure economics for their organizations during the current downturn.
Before we talk about specific two-step moves, it’s important to realize that the economic crisis has forced enterprise IT departments to stop or severely limit their spending. While this may help the enterprise stay afloat, it also requires that those departments find imaginative and cost-effective ways to serve technology needs. Put another way, they need to find the cheapest way to provide two commodity resources: storage and processor power. And providing flexible, cost-effective and outsourced storage and processor power is the value proposition of cloud computing that makes the CIOs of Fortune 1000 companies stand up and take notice.
Enterprises are looking to leverage the buying power and infrastructure management expertise of cloud vendors such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, GoGrid, Mosso, Joyent and others. These clouds allow the enterprise to lease rather than own processors and storage. The lure of leasing these resources allows for the flexibility to turn up and down resources as needed instead of owning and provisioning for a high watermark of requirements. Perhaps one of my favorite illustration of the power and economics of cloud computing is the Washington Post example available on Amazon.com.
So why are enterprise IT departments not running toward cloud computing to help scale resources and control costs? One oft-cited reason is that this technology is still in its infancy, but I think the real reason is that they are struggling to transform their traditional practices to ones that extend into the cloud. For example, if an IT department decides to outsource some of its processing power to Amazon like the Washington Post did, then how are those resources provisioned, monitored for faults and performance issues, secured against break-ins and accessed by both internal resources and third-party partners? There are some cloud solutions for these issues, but enterprise IT has spent decades building integrated internal systems and needs a way to bridge the gap from what they are using today to the cloud.
That’s where the cloud two-step comes in. The cloud two-step is a technology strategy that bridges the gap between traditional IT practices, ones that occur within the four walls of the enterprise, and the desire for IT practices that work under a new economic environment. It is a way to step into the cloud in two easy steps: the first to deploy technology within the enterprise that IT can fully control, the second to then use this technology to leverage clouds. Some examples include:

  • a technology solution that configures enterprise network management systems (step one) to monitor faults and performance of cloud vendors (step two)
  • software that configures virtual machines in an enterprise data center (step one) with an overflow option to offload processing to a cloud (step two)
  • a new enterprise backup system (step one) that automatically provisions cloud storage when disk capacity reaches a certain threshold (step two)

It seems likely that there will be many dancers auditioning to perform the cloud two-step for enterprise IT in the upcoming year, and I look forward to seeing these solutions help further establish clouds as the next generation for IT. So while enterprises will always need their IT departments, those that find solutions that allow them to dance the cloud two-step gracefully will live to dance another day. Those that don’t may find that their next dance is their last one.
Allan Leinwand is a venture partner with Panorama Capital and founder of Vyatta. He was also the CTO of Digital Island.