The one thing still holding back cloud computing: Server huggers?

They're not reactionaries; they're afraid getting rid of servers means getting rid of them, too

When developers want to level a stand of virgin forest, the call the environmentalists who protest the destruction "tree huggers."

Some did it because they just liked trees. Most were part of '70s and '80s environmental movements, which had a complex political agenda that's not always clear even yet.

In the Noughty Outies the relevant term is "server hugger," coined by pithy Forrester analyst James Staten as a way to ding executives who resist cloud computing or virtualization because they just don't trust a server they can't see.

There have always been good reasons to prefer a server you can put your hands on if necessary; virtual servers tended to multiply and eat up all the available resources because, when they burst into data centers with irresistible ROI, they were almost invisible once they were launched. Especially once the same user launched a new version of the same server every single day for a couple of months without ever killing one.

Sprawl-controlling lifecycle management has come a long way since then, as have virtual-server and cloud-resource monitoring software.

Neither category as complete as it should be, and none of the products are as capable as the physical-server versions of the same products.

Cloud and virtual servers aren't invisible anymore, however.

Staten and other virtualization- and cloud-computing analysts didn't use pejoratives back then to describe IT or business managers who resisted virtualization. Their reasons were too good.

Most of them now are more worried that if a server disappears they'll have a hard time justifying their jobs.

Server huggers "have significant concerns about their ongoing value to the company if they don't run [IT systems] themselves," Staten told Computerworld.

The situation is more complicated than the business-unit manager who thinks IT is gypping his or her department by taking away the physical servers and replacing them with an equivalent amount of processing power, allocated via cloud-based infrastructure, from the data center.

With nothing to lay hands on, the only evidence that something worthwhile is being provided is the work employees do.

A lot of managers would rather measure their importance against the amount of space their departments take up, or their headcount or the number of servers they need, rather than the importance or quality of the work their departments produce.

Quality is so much harder to quantify than quantity.

Within IT, at least, there is a legitimate question of how cloud computing, specifically, changes IT job descriptions.

Companies that are heavily into cloud often need IT managers who spend more time managing vendors than managing employees, hiring people or meeting with top execs.

Managing contracts with outside vendors is a valuable and not-that-common skill, even among IT people, according to recruiters.

It's not one that's as well accepted as a leadership position as a gig in which there are servers to be launched, hardware to be installed, moved or shoved out the door and code to be written.

Even in heavily cloud-ified shops, it's not likely to be a pure requirement, either, at least not for very many people within IT.

Few, if any companies have actually pitchforked out all their hardware in favor of cloud-based apps. None I know of have gone entirely to externally provided applications to run the business.

There are legacy data centers, enterprise apps, networks, storage – all the traditional IT stuff to be managed and handled and integrated and shoved around the data center until you find a cool spot.

Handing some of the load-balancing and capacity planning off to an outside vendor isn't that big a deal from the point of view of the CFO and CEO. It's just one more way to get the computing done.

To IT people who have always counted their worth according to the systems they run or efficiency of their networks or reliability of their networks, having the physical component of some of those assets disappear can be unnerving.

A lot of things have disappeared in IT the past few years; most of them are what were called "jobs."

It's not surprising some people are hesitant to let go of their servers and climb down out of the cabling trees.

Everyone wants to preserve the things that make them comfortable, the things they know they can work with, especially when the alternative is something as half-proven as cloud computing.

Server huggers are going to have to get over it, though.

Even if the workloads aren't going out the door to a cloud platform, they're disappearing into invisible virtual machines and virtual server farms.

Being able to put a hand on all the systems you support will soon be as nostalgic – and as good an indicator that you're a dinosaur – as all those movies where the heroes suddenly start shouting that someone's trying to hack into the mainframe. As if the shiny, new facilities in those movies would even have a mainframe. As if they'd even have anything on the mainframe that was worth hacking into, even if they had one.

No matter how hard the cloud is to embrace, server huggers have to let the hardware go.

It's not that they're exclusively part of the past, just that, if you tie yourself too closely to them, all anyone sees is someone trying to save something that's not as useful as it once was, uses a lot more power and resources than it creates and, if you look really closely, especially in the corners, has more dust and cobweb and bits of deceased insect than you'd really want to tie your career to, anyway.

Time to brush yourself off a bit and embrace the abstraction.

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