Tomorrow’s Cloud

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I love Tim Hortons.  IT Weapons was born in a Tim Hortons on Dixie Road in the Spring of 2000.  That coffee shop was our base of operations and the source of our inspiration for the first few months. To this day, my time at Timmies, however fleeting, is always filled with nostalgia.  This weekend, Tim Hortons felt like my office again.  Here’s my story.

Sunday morning I head to Timmies fully outfitted in weekend (farmer) Ted gear; substituting a John Deere hat, plaid flannel and jeans for Monday’s gaberdeen slacks and an ITW golf shirt.  I still had my iPhone, of course.

Standing in line to grab a double-double and raisin bran muffin, I overhear an outburst. Fun!  A guy sitting behind me barks into his phone “I hate all this F__ing Cloud Sh_t!”  <click>.   I won’t lie, that is music to my ears.  So I grab my coffee and food (before heading home to chop wood) and decide to engage the angry guy now reading on his iPad.   He probably thought the hayseed in front of him was going to ask him about tractors or country manners.  Instead I say “So, who called your business this week,  Microsoft or VMware?”

“Both called actually.  And according to my CFO, Google maintains that those guys will be out of business soon because Google’s Cloud Apps are going to revolutionize the way we do business.”  As I sit down, he continues, “all this Cloud nonsense makes me feel like our recent IT investments were a mistake.   We either need to start purchasing more consulting and products to build our own cloud at the office (FYI … my people don’t have time for that), or move away from our own stuff and into some super-cheap public cloud thing.”   His frustration clear, I start asking a few more questions, like what his name is and what his business does.  It’s Mike.  He’s the CEO, and they build and supply car parts for a larger manufacturer.

Mike makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t understand IT at all, and that pisses him off.  He says that when he started the company he helped make the products, sold and shipped them.  He knew his industry inside-out.  Not understanding the IT part of his business, but having to approve budgetary stuff for it drives him crazy.

So I start to tell Mike the story of how early manufacturing plants and factories used to have their own power plants, even within the last century.  They each staffed their own electricians and mechanical engineers to deliver power to their machines.  There was no such thing as a centralized power grid for industry.  I point to the wall plug across the room, and say “nowadays, we don’t even question it …  We pay our bill, we plug stuff in, and the power is there.”   Very few people understand how power gets produced and delivered to our homes and offices.  And more to the point, we don’t need to understand to live our lives and conduct business.  We trust the experts to look after it and we are (generally) happy to just pay our bill and plug in.

Hold on to your hat Mike, but you need to understand that IT is going through the same kind of transformation right now.   Sure, it will take a number of years to mature, but the trend is real and this IS happening.  Just as the toaster and the printing press plug into “the Grid”, one day you will plug your computer into the wall to get to “the Cloud”.  just as all those private power plants have largely dissapeared, so too will much of people’s currently owned private IT assets.  You will use “the Cloud”.  For most mid-sized and large businesses, the logical intermediary step (for the next 5-10 years) will be a Private Cloud.  You can leverage your existing investments (hardware, software, networking stuff) and add on some new tools to help make your own virtualized IT infrastructure act like a Cloud.  Now my coffee is cold and  Mike is intrigued.

From my perspective, Public Cloud stuff is too risky for a mid-sized Canadian business to trust whole-hog right now.   There are security issues, customization and administration issues, ownership of data issues etc…  “So, Mike, the frustration you are feeling now is normal and logical.”  I let Mike know that the only thing he needs to accomplish today, here, in Tim Horton’s is to accept that the Cloud is coming.  “You can’t stop it but you can prepare for it”.

What I suggest to Mike is to think about his recent IT purchase as the first step in his Cloud evolution.  He should find an expert that he trusts to help him build it, and build it at a 3rd party Data Centre.  His IT team can co-manage it with the 3rd party.   Mike just needs a company that has foresight and flexible services that can ease him and his business into the Cloud.  Sort of like a “Goldilocks” IT firm; not too big, rigid and faceless (ahem, IBM) and not too small to handle his demands.  I realize now that I am selling in Tim Hortons.  Feels like old times.  I am overcome with nostalgia.  “Mike, you need a company with technical savvy that makes you feel safe.”

Mike has obviously not fallen off the turnip truck and recognizes what I am doing … he laughs and plays along. With a smirk: “OK Ted, and who might THAT company be?”

I proceed to draw him a picture.  I lay out a high-availability Data Centre infrastructure (it happens to be ours).  3 highly connected and redundant DCs in Eastern Canada and one in the West.  I detail our ability to move virtual workloads between sites and do system-wide 3.5 minute Disaster Recovery failovers across 3000KMs.  All this infrastructure performance has been designed by, and gets monitored and fully managed by, 60 of the brightest people around.  Imagine they have complete ITIL, SAS70 and SSAE16 designations too.   it’s an award-winning system home to SMBs and large public enterprises.   I am delighted with my performance.  Mike looks at the diagram and calmly says to me, “I hate all this f___ing Cloud sh_t”.

Mike has every reason to hate it.  Mike also has plenty of reason to get his IT stuff out of his building.  Mike’s IT people will still manage everything, but they will have a team of experts for escalated issues to and they can start the Cloud evolution planning; finding ways for his business to ‘use’ IT to enhance user productivity, executive decision making and of course for Mike to make more money.  Mike likes the sound of that.   And that’s my cue to head out.

I take a picture of the napkin and turn to leave – mission accomplished.  Mike laughs and says “that’s it?  I don’t even know your company name!”  I let him know that I’ll see him next week and that I’ll have a business card with me.

“Sir, can I take your order please?”


“Sir … There are people in line behind you. You’re just standing there daydreaming.”

I blink my eyes a few times and realize I am still in line, haven’t ordered, and the guy with the iPad is really just barking because he spilled coffee all over himself and his device.   It made me think of the importance of DR.

This Mike isn’t real.  But there are thousands of Mikes out there right now.  Business leaders are confused about cloud computing, unsure of where it fits with their business; and many are skeptical of what the big vendors are saying in the media.

We have a great webcast coming up at the end of the month that deals with exactly Mike’s trouble.  You should sign up:

Feb 28/2012 – My Infrastructure is Cloud Enabled, Now What?

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