As cloud infrastructure offerings gain more popularity, the debate on the raison d'etre of on-premise IT infrastructure has grown. Obviously, there are two sides of the debate. While one group foresees on-premise IT infrastructure fading into oblivion, the other group believes – challenges notwithstanding – traditional IT infrastructure will remain relevant.

Data corroborates the fact that cloud infrastructure has been becoming more popular with increasing adoption. The popularity can be partly attributed to the problems with traditional enterprise infrastructure such as cost and management problems. However, it does not seem realistic that all enterprise infrastructure will move to the cloud. Organizations will likely carry out due diligence and evaluate the proposition on a case-by-case basis. (To learn more about how the cloud is changing business, check out Project Management, Cloud Computing Style.)

The Hype Around the Cloud

There certainly appears to be some hype around cloud, especially on its potential to replace the traditional IT infrastructure. There was recently a debate on this topic sponsored by Deloitte. Obviously, there are two sides of the debate. While one side appeared bullish on the potential replacement of traditional IT infrastructure, the other side took a more balanced view. Let us consider both views:

For Cloud Replacing Traditional IT Infrastructure

This side of the debate focused on eliminating the cost and hassles associated with enterprise architecture (EA). Maintaining the EA involved many different activities which are viewed as complex, costly and avoidable. There is an opportunity to move everything related to EA to the cloud and reduce hassles and costs significantly.

Against Cloud Replacing Traditional IT Infrastructure

Jobs and processes in the cloud cannot be treated as standalone entities. EA will still have a role to play in managing the relationships and dependencies between mission, technologies, processes and business initiatives. Scott Rosenberger, partner at Deloitte Consulting, takes a more balanced view. According to Rosenberger, "No matter what tool you use, the core problem isn’t the technology. It's in defining the relationships between all the different components of their vision, from business processes to technology. And that’s where EA comes in."

According to David S. Linthicum, noted author, "Cloud computing does not replace enterprise architecture. It does not provide 'infinite scalability,' it does not 'cost pennies a day,' you can't 'get there in an hour' – it won't iron my shirts either. It's exciting technology that holds the promise of providing more effective, efficient, and elastic computing platforms, but we're taking this hype to silly levels these days, and my core concern is that the cloud may not be able to meet these overblown expectations." (For more on infrastructure, see IT Infrastructure: How to Keep Up.)

Problems of Traditional IT Infrastructure

Both exasperation with EA limitations and cost considerations have been behind the serious consideration of the cloud infrastructure proposition. Whether we are choosing something even worse is a different debate. EA is a practice which, if implemented well, could yield many benefits. However, it is unable to realize its potential because of certain problems:

  • EA is a separate practice and requires a practice-based management. Yet, organizations put people in charge of EA who are people-focused and not practice-focused.
  • Implementing quality EA requires a deep and broad understanding of EA and its role in the organization. For that, a broader planning and architecture is required, right from the start. However, many different ad hoc architectures are created based on situations, and that can completely jeopardize the broader EA goals.
  • The main problem with many EA architects is their approach to business problems. While the technical acumen of the architects cannot be questioned, they often lack the ability to take a broader view of the business problems and how the EA can solve them. The architects are too deep into the technical nuances, which prevents them from accepting other business perspectives.
  • Many EAs are too complex and rigid. This prevents them from accommodating changes necessitated by changes in business situations. Many head architects tend to forget that the main focus of EA is on business and not on unnecessary technical stuff. According to John Zachman, the founder of modern EA, "Architecture enables you to accommodate complexity and change. If you don't have Enterprise Architecture, your enterprise is not going to be viable in an increasingly complex and changing external environment."

Is Cloud the Solution?

The way forward is to have a balance and not drastically change your IT infrastructure strategy. You also need to seriously consider the issue of confidentiality and security of data. Probably the best approach would be to consider the feasibility of moving EA to the cloud in phases. For example, you could divide your EA into logical areas such as software applications and servers and consider their cases individually. For example, the following categories could be used:

  • Software applications, which can include productivity suites like Office, SQL Server, Exchange email, VMware ESX Server, SharePoint, finance programs (like QuickBooks Server), or an enterprise search program.
  • Service areas, which can include functions such as authentication mechanisms, monitoring, and task schedulers. For example, you can certainly consider replacing complex in-house services such as Active Directory with online services such as Windows Azure Active Directory.
  • Storage can be a tricky proposition because you store a lot of data which can be confidential. So, you need to think hard about whether or not you want to move that data out and allow a third party to take care of it. For example, if your business handles credit card data, it is extremely risky to hand over storage to another entity.

Conclusion

The way forward should be a balance between cloud and in-house architecture. Not all organizations are going to move to the cloud because of their unique considerations. It is rather simplistic to think that all IT infrastructure will just move to the cloud; it is far more complex than that. Studies show that a lot of talk about moving to the cloud is just that – talk. Companies will decide on cloud adoption depending on their data security, cost and benefits, relevance and other considerations. Three scenarios are possible: total, mixed or non-adoption of cloud.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that cloud-based infrastructure is going to be a major force very soon. So much so that major IT infrastructure providers are expecting a slowdown. The Research firm 451 Group finds that cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services are going to grow at an exponential rate. But even in the face of growing cloud adoption, EA is not going to go away anytime soon.