Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cloud Computing Will Cause Three IT Revolutions

During the next two to five years, you'll see enormous conflict about the technical pros and cons of cloud computing. Three of cloud's key characteristics will create three IT revolutions, each with supporters and detractors. CIO.com's Bernard Golden explains the first of these, involving scalability and IT operations.

Every revolution results in winners and losers — after the dust settles. During the revolution, chaos occurs as people attempt to discern if this is the real thing or just a minor rebellion. All parties put forward their positions, attempting to convince onlookers that theirs is the path forward. Meanwhile, established practices and institutions are disrupted and even overturned — perhaps temporarily or maybe permanently. Eventually, the results shake out and it becomes clear which viewpoint prevails and becomes the new established practice -- and in its turn becomes the incumbent, ripe for disruption.

This is true in technology as in every other domain. In the tech business, we often get caught up in focusing on vendor winners and losers. Point to the client/server revolution, and it's obvious — Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC). Over on the loser side stand the minicomputer vendors. This winner/loser phenomenon can be seen in every significant technology shift (and indeed, one shift's winner can become a future loser). This is understandable: we all love conflict and the vendor wars make for great press.

Less awareness is present for the effects of these revolutions on what makes up the vast majority of the technology industry — users. One could hazard a guess that for every dollar of revenue that Microsoft products pull in, IT organizations spend 10 or 20 additional dollars (or perhaps even more) in building and running systems. By far the biggest impact of any technology revolution is that upon technology users (by which I mean those who work with the technology, i.e., IT organizations).

Another aspect of change is how individuals react to it. It's a cliche that "people don't like change." That's dead wrong. People accept — and even embrace — change when they see it brings a direct benefit. Look at the immediate adoption of the iPhone — didn't see a lot of resistance to that, did you? A more nuanced understanding of people's reaction to change would interpret likely reactions based upon how the effect of the change is perceived by the individual — is it a benefit or a threat?

When it comes to organizations, it's a misreading to assume that the organization will react as a whole — every organization is made up of groups and individual actors, each of which will have its (or his or her) own read on the implications of a change. If we look to the original move of PCs into companies, some portions of IT organizations embraced them, while others, wedded to the existing mode of performing IT, saw them as a distraction, a threat, or a toy. In other words, there were different camps that arose in reaction to the availability of this new form of computing, and there were pitched battles for personal and organizational influence that took the guise of a technical assessment.

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