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Cut IT team by a third, says VMware cloud chief

VMware's cloud chief, Bill Fathers, urges CIOs to rebuild their IT department and infrastructure for the cloud

Cloud computing is here and IT leaders need to rethink their cloud IT plans, says Bill Fathers, executive vice-president and general manager of VMware’s cloud services business.

Rather than migrate applications to the cloud, he says CIOs should restructure their IT department and the applications they support, for a cloud-first way of working.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Bill Fathers says he has seen a massive shift in people's perception of cloud computing. "It is certainly very dynamic," he says. 

According to Fathers’ estimates, 6% of workloads now run in the public cloud. While there will, inevitably, be issues of privacy and data protection that preclude all applications from being migrated, Fathers says that behind the scenes there are billions of dollars worth of infrastructure going into the cloud.

In his experience, while IT leaders may express concerns about hosting data in the cloud, the same cannot be said for developers: "The developers will put 40,000 VMs [virtual machines] in the public cloud."

Speaking of the business drivers for migrating systems to the cloud, Fathers points out that lowering IT expenditure is still a major one. 

"We see top-down mandates – a pragmatic view that 'I don't have enough money to spend on my existing infrastructure'," he says.

Complexities of cloud adoption

But Fathers warns cloud migration for the sake of cost-cutting raises integration and compatibility issues. This is particularly apparent when IT teams attempt to bridge their on-premise environment and the cloud. 

"Invest in people who understand what the next version of your business is going to look like"

Bill Fathers, VMware

In such an environment, the challenge, says Fathers, is how customers connect their existing IT environment with the cloud. One common problem area Fathers has encountered is the MAC address (media access control address) that is used to identify networked resources uniquely.

"VMware has worked with the top 5% of its customers to enable networking across the cloud and on-premise applications. The problems become apparent when organisations attempt to put hundreds of virtual LANs in the cloud. Mirroring multiple LAN environments that straddle on-premise and cloud [environments] is extremely complex," he says.

Fathers admits that most of VMware's NSX research has been poured into solving this problem. "If you move an application to the cloud and you want to move it back, the original MAC address may be used by some other application," he says.

Another example is IP addresses. "If you have an IP address on-premise, Amazon gives you an IP address too, so you need intelligent ways in the network to enable IP address translation to happen."

Few businesses push cloud agility

While many organisations have moved infrastructure to the cloud, Fathers says few have taken the next step to looking at how the cloud can help the business run more dynamically. 

Fathers cites disaster recovery (DR) as being one of the biggest triggers for cloud adoption. "It’s a no-brainer," he says.

DR in the cloud has been a great business for VMware, according to Fathers. But he says once a CIO has migrated the first three or four applications to the cloud, and has demonstrated agility and cost savings using the same application portfolio as was previously run on-premise, they have to start thinking about how they can really push this great new cloud infrastructure.

As an example, he points out that some of the most strategic cloud transformations have been when VMware has worked with Pivotal Labs to use Cloud Foundry to rewrite existing applications.

Re-skilling IT for the cloud era

As cloud skills mature, Fathers warns that CIOs will need to understand both applications and infrastructure.

"Just being cloud-savvy and being able to run IaaS [infrastructure as a service] and your own cloud portfolio will last about three years," he says. "You used to be an application or infrastructure specialist, but [with new ways to deliver IT in the cloud] you will have to understand both because software-defined [IT] is all software. You'll effectively get out of appliances. As you get into software-defined mode, you will have to understand the applications."

Read more about cloud transformation

Fathers' advice to storage, network and IT infrastructure experts is to embrace the change. "If you are deeply worried about the scale and magnitude of the change that you’ll be going through, it's a good thing. Live with it and ask yourself how you transition your business to the cloud over the next five years," he says. 

Fathers believes this five-year transition plan will be how the tenure of a CIO will ultimately be measured.

He urges CIOs to look at the make-up of their IT teams and be prepared to make dramatic cuts. "Invest forward," he says. "Chances are, 95% of your team understands your existing infrastructure technology platforms extremely well. You’ll be getting rid of a third of them to invest in people who understand what the next version of your business is going to look like."

Dump bi-modal thinking

IT advisory firms recommend CIOs bifurcate IT – as in "mode one" and "mode two" – to use Gartner’s terminology. 

It is not a strategy Fathers would recommend. "Just don’t do that," he says. "The systems of record tend to be less glamorous. The people who get left with legacy IT or bad IT will undermine new IT. Who wants to be there?" 

There needs to be a tight link between the front-office IT – the so-called systems of engagement – and the back-office systems of record, according to Fathers.

Systems of record are often run on the VMware hypervisor, and the systems of engagement use cloud infrastructure. “I spend a lot of my life helping clients connect the two. It is harder than they think,” warns Fathers.

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