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The real reasons enterprises haven't embraced the cloud

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Achim Weiss CEO and Co-founder, ProfitBricks
If you follow the hype, you'd think every enterprise has migrated all their IT to the cloud. Only cloud natives are getting their compute through a service, and much of the compute power around the world remains tucked in closets and data centers.

The public cloud offers a number of benefits over on-premises virtualization, including cost savings; faster deployments; better performance, scalability and flexibility; or simply the ability to shift budgets from capital expenditures to operational expenditures. Every business has its own reason to dump VMware for the cloud, but few can find an argument against it.

If you follow the hype, you'd think that every enterprise has migrated all their IT to the cloud. But the truth is, only cloud natives are entirely getting their compute through a service, much of the compute power around the world remains tucked in closets and data centers, where they're owned and operated by traditional IT staffs.

A recent Bain and Company survey concluded that companies put only about 18 percent of their workloads in the cloud. That small percentage has brought with it tremendous growth. Gartner's research indicates that this year, for the first time, IaaS outpaced on-premises deployments, and the growth will continue well into the future. This means the biggest cloud opportunities lie with the workloads that already run on-site and will move to the cloud as infrastructure reaches the end of its lifecycle.

The catch? The cloud isn't all that simple to use.

Benefits and challenges of cloud migration

Cloud offers a host of benefits over owned IT, whether that's cost savings, faster deployments, better performance, scalability, flexibility, or simply shifting budgets from capital expenditures to operational expenditures. Every business has its own reason to move the cloud, but few can find an argument against it.

The first issue is getting there. The fact is, most corporate VPs of information technology and the SysAdmins in the IT departments have a generation of experience in understanding hardware; it's what the staff knows, it's how they've been trained, and where they have experience. Recent projects with virtualization technologies and email as a service have been first steps to the cloud. But when an aging piece of equipment needs to be replaced, the IT staff knows what specs to consider and how to compare pricing. They know what different boxes will offer and what makes each of them unique.

The cloud, however, is far more complicated. How does an mXsmall instance compare with the servers currently in the closet? Is there a way to set up a firewall or a network that's not connected to the Internet? What sizes are going to ensure that the legacy programs will run without the help desk receiving 10 calls an hour because of crashes or slowdowns?

Cloud migrations are painful—there's no doubt about it. So much so that a cottage industry has emerged around the idea. As soon as you think about migrating to the cloud, consultants show up at your door offering advice and help to make the move a smooth one, all for $500 an hour. It's no wonder that many companies have chosen to put off the pain and wait for a better solution.

Cloud natives lead the way

The good news is that the cloud has matured to the point that the pain is receding. Remember the early days of smartphones, before the iPhone? Think Palm Treo or a Nokia. Everyone knew this was something revolutionary, but other than the most ardent techies, few spent the money on these clunky devices. Worse, without the audience, few developers created apps that were relevant to everyone.

Smartphones needed to go through a generation or two of change, not only in terms of their usability and user experience, but also in terms of the underlying ecosystems and telecommunications infrastructure that supported them. Carriers needed to bolster their systems, Wi-Fi needed to become pervasive, interfaces needed generations of testing, and people needed to get used to the idea of compute power in their pocket.

This process wasn't easy, and for years we heard more about the promise than the reality.

Today the cloud is undergoing the same transition. Just like with smartphones and similar technologies before it, many early adopters were able to move right in and extol its virtues. Most of those are organizations rely on a public-facing web presence for all their business, sales, support etc. They're what we like to call "cloud natives," many of them are SaaS startups. These cloud natives never ordered a physical server or set up a hardware firewall. They never needed to worry about desktop computers and local LANs. They don't have legions of staff depending on internal enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems that need to migrate to have upgraded infrastructure.

Complexity meets simplicity

Making things simple is hard, and it's never the early users who get to take advantage of the simplicity. But we're getting there. We're getting to the point that the cloud can operate more like real hardware. We're entering a generation in which migration is becoming more about matching existing physical infrastructure with something in the cloud. It's something that looks and feels just like it does when it's in the server closet: cloud infrastructure that meets complex networking or storage replication requirements but masks the complexity with elegant user interfaces.

Making something simple is actually very hard. We're just beginning to find the point in which the complexities of the cloud have become simple and painless.

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