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Confronting The Culture of Cloud Computing
Addressing the cultural changes in cloud computing

Over the past two weeks I’ve been talking to IT architects and engineers from companies of all sizes and across many industries about cloud computing. It seems that many are moving past the talk and hype of cloud computing and looking into implementation details. Many of the companies I’ve talked with are either already leveraging cloud computing (both public and private), or they are currently researching or prototyping some sort of cloud computing solution.

I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the number of companies already involved in cloud computing. We’ve all seen the reports and numbers for some time now that indicate just how many organizations have turned to some aspects of cloud computing. However, there has been a common theme that has been a bit surprising. I expected to hear quite a lot about the technical challenges these organizations face when adopting cloud solutions, and to some degree I have.

However, it’s a different type of challenge that is sometimes proving to be as difficult if not more difficult than the technical challenge. That challenge is the cultural change and process disruption that cloud computing can present within an organization.

For quite some time many IT departments have organized themselves around sets of responsibilities. There is a team that deals with operating system infrastructure, a team that deals with applications, a team that deals with deployments, and so on. Traditionally, if a member of the application team needed to deploy a middleware environment to support an application they would go through some sort of request process with the deployment team.

With many cloud computing solutions, this traditional human-driven procurement process is being turned on its head. Now, authorized users can directly provision the resources they need to do their job. Depending on the cloud computing solution, those resources could be operating system instances, storage, network infrastructure, middleware environments, and even applications. Regardless of the resource type, users that need the resource are directly interacting with the cloud to have it provisioned.

This change to a more self-service model can surely bring increased agility and efficiency to an organization, but it does require thought as to how that maps to traditional roles in an organization. In a technical sense, this means cloud computing solutions must provide a robust system for defining users, user roles, and user access.

It’s important that the concept of user roles and user access is kept separate to allow for appropriate flexibility. For instance, members of the test and development teams may both have permission to provision cloud-provided application environments in which to carry out their work. However, it is not necessarily true that members of those teams would have access to the same set of application environments, so the cloud must provide a mechanism by which particular application environments can be assigned to particular users or user sets.

You may be thinking it’s obvious that cloud computing solutions (or any IT solution for that matter) need to provide a method to define user roles and user access. You’re right, but the capabilities that a particular solution delivers should not be overlooked. The granularity of user access and the degree to which roles in the cloud map to traditional roles in IT can go a long way toward easing the adoption of cloud within an organization.

There are many other cultural facets, both technical and non-technical, that cloud computing vendors will have to tackle. For vendors it will be important to remember that addressing this cultural disruption will be just as important as addressing the technical needs of their customers.

About Dustin Amrhein
Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.

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