Lessons Learned from Nebula and an Updated Perspective on how to Assess Enterprise Clouds

I invested 14 months of my life working at Nebula after having worked 14 years at IBM. What a contrast. Nebula’s leaders and founders changed the IT universe by creating OpenStack Nova. Perhaps there was too much focus on changing the world than on making money, but it was awesome to work with the people who pioneered OpenStack. The mentality was very different than my prior experience, where the clear emphasis was sales. This blog post captures lessons learned from my Nebula experience.

The biggest takeaway might be best summarized by a question posed by one prospect. Do you have an equivalent of a “Hello World” program for cloud? What this prospect needed was something rare in today’s enterprise, applications well-suited for the cloud. Many enterprises and vendors have prioritized building and providing IaaS and PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service). If you read my very first blog post, “How to assess the maturity and growth potential of an enterprise cloud”, you will see that I had focused on IaaS and PaaS too. I have now updated the assessment method to include applications, as described later in this post.

Figure 1. An enterprise cloud initiative?

Figure 1. An enterprise cloud initiative?

Where are the rowers?
Perhaps our execution of cloud initiatives resembled Figure 1, where an executive clamors for cloud but the staff (or rowers) are not rowing? Why are the rowers not rowing? They do not know what they really need to do. For example, they often do not know which applications should run on the cloud.

Two questions that I will prioritize in future cloud endeavors
Organizations would likely be more successful with their cloud initiatives if they asked these two questions.

  • Which applications are or will the cloud be optimized for?
  • Which applications are or will be optimized for the cloud?

Answering these application-oriented questions will help clarify the objectives, e.g. optimizing the cloud for applications and the applications for the cloud. Without understanding those two objectives, cloud initiatives become more like science projects.

Faster execution and more success?
Cloud would be far easier if it was just about technology. How we use technology, however, is just as important to the value of cloud. Consider the transition from steam power to electric power. For roughly 30 years, people used electric power like they used steam power. The world waited one generation to truly realize value from electric power.

How can we accelerate the transformation to cloud? I wish I had a silver bullet for a solution. What I suggest is executing the cloud assessment method described in “How to assess the maturity and growth potential of an enterprise cloud”. Leverage the capability maps to do a gap analysis and identify actionable steps. Later, reuse the capability maps to re-assess to measure progress.

Figures 2 and 3 below show updated capabilities maps that take into account applications in addition to infrastructure, IaaS and PaaS. Figure 2 adds a new “Application/Use Case” section and Figure 3 is a new application assessment, where the example highlights cloud readiness attributes that were explained in “A technical primer on the cloud application architectures that are driving enterprise IT transformation”.

Figure 2. Sample Capability Maps that include Applications

Figure 2. Sample capability maps, including applications

Figure 3. Sample cloud requirements map for applications

Can organizations learn and adopt cloud more quickly?
Let us consider some practical insight on learning from a John Hopkins paper titled “The Role of Aging in Adult Learning: Implications for Instructors in Higher Education”. In that article, David Crawford notes, “Most educators may be somewhat disappointed to find that the majority of adults do not learn for the sheer pleasure of learning. The main reason that adults are engaged in learning is because they want to be able to apply and use the knowledge.” Perhaps this explains why I have observed such strong preferences to build clouds using the same storage, servers, network, operational and security processes that they are familiar with. The problem is that what employees build or want to build largely resembles what they are already doing. With this approach, it might take a generation to fully get the value of cloud. Would an existing enterprise have that much time?

If I have learned anything about cloud computing while working with enterprise clients at Nebula, it is the need to focus on applications. Remember to ask and answer two questions. Which applications are or will the cloud be optimized for? Which applications are or will be optimized for the cloud?

Nebula 1Apr2015

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