This week, I’d like to share an admittedly Chicken Little-esque view of what might happen when the proverbial computing cloud falls from the sky and lands on corporate IT. There’s been a lot of talk lately about cloud computing. My gut tells me that it’s a question of when, rather than if, cloud computing becomes a force to be reckoned with. This week, I won’t explore the technical merits of cloud computing or the impact that SQL Server Data Services will have on the SQL Server community. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss those topics in future weeks. Instead, I'm going to explore an aspect of cloud computing that I think has been largely ignored by the press. On with Chicken Little.
Cloud computing advocates tend to compare cloud computing to the modern electrical grid. It’s not the perfect analogy, but it’s reasonably good. What SQL Server DBA doesn’t like the notion of being able to draw more SQL Server juice out of the wall during whatever processing cycle you're running, similarly to needing a boost of electrical power to run your AC on a miserably hot summer day. Let’s explore that analogy a bit more in the context of how cloud computing might affect corporate IT staff sizes. How many small, medium, or large organizations do you know that maintain internal power production and distribution teams? The last time I looked there weren’t many power plant engineers hanging out in corporate America. The whole point of the power grid is that it’s simply there and someone else takes care of it for you. Here’s a dirty little secret that we all like to push under rug from time to time. A tremendous amount of time, energy, and money is spent on highly trained, highly paid staff members who tweak a lot of knobs and buttons on servers so that a company can run. I’m not suggesting that IT pros and SQL Server DBAs do nothing but tweak knobs—my statement is a bit exaggerated to illustrate my point in a short space. However, I think we all know there is some truth to it. Today, there isn't a heck of a lot we can do to avoid a LOT of IT time being spent doing trivial, under-productive knob tweaking, so massive investments in internal IT teams and infrastructure are necessary. But what will happen to corporate IT if cloud computing really works?
There are too many variables for me to make a prediction about what will happen. However, it’s reasonable to assume that cloud-based IT services will require fewer professionals to keep them up and running. Furthermore, the whole point of the cloud is that it can be anywhere, so cloud-based IT services lend themselves to be hosted from locations in which the cost of labor is substantially less than "big city," white-collar IT salaries. If both of those statements are true it would seem that corporate IT teams will shrink dramatically. However, none of that is in the cards anytime soon. I suspect it will be close to a decade before cloud computing is practical enough to have a substantial effect on traditional IT groups.
I could be wrong. Cloud-based computing might simply free IT pros and SQL Server DBAs from mundane tasks so that they can perform other more strategic and value-added tasks. But I’ve shared my Chicken Little thoughts with several colleagues, all of whom recognize that there's a good bit of truth to the belief that cloud computing, if successful, will ultimately have a profound effect on the makeup of corporate IT. I’m not suggesting that this change is good or bad, but I do think it’s an interesting scenario to explore. Let me know what you think.