Piloting cloud services

Piloting cloud services

CIOs take their cue from the evolution of flight.

With all the talk about clouds, it’s ironic to think CIOs stand to learn from those who actually fly there every day. Yet stop to consider it, and there are many lessons to be learned from the airline industry, says Rick Hamilton, vice president, cloud managed services, Cisco.

In 1936, a flagship DC-3 carried 20 passengers at speeds of 200 miles per hour with two pilots in the cockpit. Today’s Airbus 380 carries 850 passengers at more than twice that speed, and yet the crew remains at two.

“The only way this is possible is through an amazing array of complexity now ‘baked’ into the aircraft,” says Hamilton, referring to tools like auto pilot, Internet-based navigation, and real-time engine monitoring systems. “In other words, it’s accomplished through automation, which is very similar to what we’re doing in the cloud.”

Greater value, same spend

With IT operating budgets averaging one to seven percent of revenue, CIOs need to deliver more value without increasing spend. Cloud services do that by automating routine, highly manual, and even highly intellectual tasks in a consistent, scalable way that introduces efficiencies.

“Airplanes are now at a point where people are starting to question the need for two pilots and I think IT is going through the same evolution,” says Hamilton.

Automation isn’t without its hiccups. Early attempts to do more in the airline industry–carry more people at faster speed–came with a great deal of complexity. Flying went from simple and mundane to highly complex, involving more people but resulting in less efficiency overall.

It’s a familiar scenario to anyone who lived through the transition from centralized mainframes to distributed client-server architectures. IT organizations mushroomed from a handful of data professionals to thousands of IT administrators. “The industry said, ‘Wow! This is really punishing from an economic standpoint. What do we do?’” reflects Hamilton.

He points to the example of a large bank that was having difficulty keeping up with the dichotomy of maintaining compliance and delivering new customer services at the same time. Technology and infrastructure changes needed to occur quickly but changing fast in a large, diverse, people-based IT environment led to mistakes. The bank suffered a significant service outage and the root cause was a compliance issue.

Automated cloud solution

Using an automated cloud solution, the bank was able to bring its system configuration back into compliance within a matter of months. A manual fix would have required two years or more and would have remained prone to the same human errors that caused the problem in the first place.

“Instead, it was done in a predictable, automated way without the nuances of having 30 or more people making changes,” says Hamilton. “They responded to their regulatory issue with a plan and they did it without disrupting business.”

Zeus Kerravala, principle analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Massachusetts, calls it a shift in control. “I’ve always said you’re only as agile as your least agile component,” says Kerravala. “With cloud services, control is shifting. We’re automating a lot things we used to do manually and that’s driving better agility.”

Where traditional outsourcing models asked enterprises to relinquish control, cloud services give it back, he says. The difference lies in what IT is now controlling.

“Using the airplane analogy, pilots today focus on different tasks than they did years ago,” says Kerravala. “The same could be said for IT. The more that’s automated in the cloud, the more IT leaders can control usage, consumption, new product delivery, or whatever it is that matters most to them.”

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