Big IT casts a shadow over cloud adoption

I have a theory about cloud adoption, that I have tested entirely unscientifically and so far been given 100% approval in response.

Let me explain.

It is pretty much impossible to put a bunch of IT leaders in a room these days without the conversation naturally coming round to cloud computing at some point – who’s doing what, what’s your experience, what works, what doesn’t.

Those conversations reflect the (proper, scientific) research conducted by Computer Weekly and our parent company TechTarget into technology purchasing intentions for this year. Our survey of 2,500 IT decision-makers worldwide confirmed that cloud was the number two item on the list of initiatives to look at this year, but was a high priority for only 30%. When asked which initiatives are actually being adopted this year, cloud didn’t make the top 10.

So, cloud is of great interest, but only a minority are actually planning to do anything this year. With this quantitative study in mind, I thought I’d do some personal qualitative research, and talked to a few IT leaders. In an entirely unscientific way, I posed them a question, and every one of them agreed with the proposition – that the biggest single hurdle preventing them from adopting cloud is the Microsoft Windows software licensing model.

OK, of course it’s not just Microsoft, it’s the whole up-front licence fee and annual maintenance charge structure – but Microsoft is the one supplier that pretty much every IT department buys from. Until Microsoft offers true cloud pricing structures, there’s always going to be a barrier to progress. (As an aside, surely the release this year of Windows 8 offers just such an opportunity – but I can’t see it happening).

I’ve written before about the fact that cloud is now a commercial and risk discussion for IT leaders, not a technology issue. And without wanting to sound like a broken record (search “vinyl, LP” on Google if you don’t get the reference…) it is the conventional software suppliers who are the biggest blocker to their customers adopting the technology they have marketed and hyped for the last three years.

I put this to a roundtable full of IT leaders earlier this week – that they get the technology, but they want answers to the commercial and risk ownership questions before they strategically commit to the cloud – and received a table full of nodding heads.

It’s been instructive to notice how vendor marketing and the analyst / research firms who depend on vendor funding are lately changing their tune to say, “Cloud isn’t about cutting costs.” That’s quite a change from the messages being pushed out in previous years.

Of course, this is an opportunity for new entrants into the market – the big players might just be disrupting themselves out of existence if they don’t wise up fast – but even the best SME cloud supplier isn’t going take over a big corporate IT service any time soon.

So we reach an impasse. Big IT says go cloud, but Big IT won’t change its safe, low-risk, proven licencing models because it can’t – its business models just wouldn’t work. IT leaders want cloud, but their Big IT suppliers won’t offer the flexible, pay-as-you-go, risk-transferred service those same suppliers told them would be the big benefit of cloud.

There’s a pun about silver linings somewhere, but I’m not sure I can see it yet.

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