It’s rumored that the Ford Model T’s track dimension (the distance between the wheels of the same axle) could be traced from the Conestoga wagon to the Roman chariot by the ruts they created. Roman roads forced European coachbuilders to adapt their wagons to the Roman chariot track, a measurement they carried over when building wagons in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s said that Ford had no choice but to adapt his cars to the rural environment created by these wagons. This cycle was finally broken by paving the roads and freeing the car from the chariot legacy.
IT has also carried over a long legacy of habits and processes that contrast with the advanced technology that it uses. While many IT organizations are happy to manage 20 servers per administrator, some Internet service providers are managing 1 or 2 million servers and achieving ratios of 1 administrator per 2000 servers. The problem is not how to use the cloud to gain 80% savings in data center costs, the problem is how to multiply IT organizations’ productivity by a factor of 100. In other words, don’t try the Model T approach of adapting the car to the old roads; think about building new roads so you can take full advantage of the new technology.
Gains in productivity come from technology improvements and economy of scale. The economy of scale is what the cloud is all about: cookie cutter servers using virtualization as a computing platform, for example. The technology advancement that paves the road to economy of scale is automation. Automation is what will abstract diversity and mask the management differences between proprietary and commodity platforms and eventually make the economy of scale possible.
The key is to turn the issue on its head: Don’t design cloud use around the current organization, but redesign the IT organization around the use of cloud and abstracted diversity. The fundamental question of the next five years is not the cloud per se but the proliferation of services made possible by the reduced cost of technologies. What’s important in Moore’s Law is the exponential growth that it describes. If our current organization manages 1,000 servers today with difficulty, what happens when we have 2,000 servers (or the virtual equivalent) in 2012 and 4,000 servers in 2014? IT organizations can’t grow exponentially. The cloud is our automobile, and we need paved roads.