When it comes to cloud computing, conventional wisdom holds that internal IT departments aren’t nearly as mature as providers of cloud computing services in terms of how they manage IT. After all, cloud service providers manage IT services as a business, while internal IT tends to deal with it as a maintenance activity.
While it’s true that service providers have something of a jump on internal IT organizations, at least when it comes to the cloud, there’s no doubt that internal IT organizations are rapidly starting to close the gap—largely via the adoption of private Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platforms that they can run in their own data centers.
Instead of just giving people access to shared infrastructure, a PaaS platform includes the underlying operating system and tools needed to develop and deploy applications on a multitenant acrchitecture. Originally developed for cloud service providers, vendors such as ActiveState, Apprenda, CloudBees, CumuLogic, IBM, and OutSystems now allow internal IT organizations to apply that same concept inside their own data centers.
This provides many internal IT organizations with a major benefit. Instead of cobbling together various cloud-computing apps into something that resembles a cohesive platform, a private PaaS platform provides an all-inclusive path to cloud computing. That can save those internal IT organizations time and stress.
In theory, internal IT organizations always have one fundamental advantage over an external cloud service provider. The latter is trying to turn a profit, while most internal IT organizations only have to break even on the IT investment.
David Nichols, Partner & CIO Services Leader for the Americas with Ernst & Young, notes that most companies will even pay slightly more for internal IT services if they believe those services can be customized and made more secure. “In the last two years, he said, “internal IT organizations have been making up a lot of ground when it comes to cloud computing.”
The ultimate debate may not be whether internal IT organizations will possess mastery of private cloud computing, but the degree to which cloud computing will be hybrid. Via technologies such as “cloudbursting,” public cloud services theoretically allow an IT organization to dynamically invoke external compute resource whenever needed. The biggest benefit of that model is it gives the internal IT organization the luxury of only having to invest in enough IT infrastructure to support their average versus peak processing requirements.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping an IT organization from setting up a private PaaS on top of a shared infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) public cloud service. But the ongoing costs of transferring data across a network, coupled with the ability to have more control over the environment, tends to push organizations towards deploying internal PaaS platforms.
That being said, it’s not uncommon for an IT organization to develop an application on a public PaaS service. But when it comes time to deploy that application in a production environment, oftentimes that production environment winds up inside a data center controlled by the internal IT organization.
“The end state when it comes to cloud computing is almost always going to be hybrid,” said Apprenda CEO Sinclair Schuller. To back that position up, Apprenda just released a version of its private PaaS platform that can be more easily integrated with Microsoft Azure PaaS service.
The only IT issue with a public PaaS platform is that the majority of them are optimized for small set of application development languages. In a world where IT organizations are more routinely creating composite applications made up of components written in multiple programming languages, trying to integrate modules across multiple public PaaS service providers can be problematic. “What organizations don’t want to do is transfer the mess of spaghetti they have run on multiple operating systems today into multiple public cloud services,” said ActiveState CEO Bart Copeland.
There’s no doubt that, when it comes to cloud computing, more than a few service providers went out of their way to make internal IT organizations feel inferior. But internal IT organizations gain confidence every time there’s an outage on a public cloud service. For that reason, ActiveState has announced plans to make it easier for customers to take applications built for Heroku and move them to an internal private cloud based on the Stackato PaaS platform developed by ActiveState.
As history has often shown, the real advantage often winds up going to the second rather than first mover—if no other reason than the second mover can observe and learn to avoid all the mistakes made by the first mover. Cloud computing appears to be no exception to that phenomenon.