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ITIL books don't mix with cloud? 'A massive cop-out,' ITIL guru says


The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) books — 30 years in the making and regarded by many as the industry’s bible for managing IT services — do not at first glance seem like such a hot match for cloud computing. Or at least that is what the Internet will tell you when you type in ITIL and cloud and get headlines that skew toward “Are cloud and ITIL like water and oil?” from Federal Computer Week, or “Cloud–The Death of ITIL? Or the Opportunity of a Lifetime?” from a CA Inc. blogger. Mistress Cloud (yes, I picture cloud computing as female) may prove to be the undoing of ITIL.

Rubbish, says David Cannon, co-author of the Service Operation book in ITIL Version 3 and head of the IT Service Management (ITSM) practice at Hewlett-Packard Co.

“Just because you have cloud, does that mean that things are not going to go wrong? And if they do go wrong, what processes are you going to use to fix them? Are you going to call them something different from incident management, from problem management? Do you make changes in cloud? Are you not going to call it change management?” Cannon asked, almost Shylock-like in his indignation.

“This whole thing that ITIL does not apply to the cloud, I believe, is a massive cop-out from the people who are developing cloud solutions to basically get away with less control because this is a new technology,” Cannon said. As for the “built-in controls” of these cloud solutions –“We’ll wait and see on that one,” he said.

Lest you think Cannon has it in for the external cloud providers’ commitment to service management, he is even tougher on internal IT groups conjuring up internal clouds. “Totally irresponsible,” he said, in many of the cases he’s seen. “What they are doing is saying, ‘We don’t know what the users are doing with the service, so we are going to put it out there and the users can do what they like. Whatever you need, guys, you just have to pay for it.'”

Granted, Cannon has a lot of skin in the game. When I spoke to him by phone last week, he was hard at work updating the Service Strategy book for ITIL Version 3.1, due out the middle of next year.

And Cannon is nothing if not passionate about the ITIL framework. In a recent interview for about launching an IT service catalog, he insisted on making certain I understood that the ITIL books document best practices for managing the complex and dynamic business of delivering IT services. They are not a theory nor a standard, nor a detailed how-to. A collection of what actually works — that’s how people should think of ITIL, he said.

But for all his ITIL passion, Cannon is not dogmatic about the ITIL framework. With regard to the cloud, he stressed that the point is not that providers or enterprise CIOs apply the ITIL books to cloud offerings, but that they apply some proven process. External cloud providers who do not have a framework for managing IT services, “will go out of business, simple as that.” he added. The brand-new infrastructure many of these cloud solution providers have invested in will work for the short-term. Longevity, he argues, will depend on how effectively these businesses can deliver their services and continue to manage customer demand.

Enterprise CIOs who provide internal clouds without implementing proven processes and governance put their companies at business and legal risk, Cannon says. And in some sense, he argues, they are abdicating their responsibility for understanding the business. (He gave the example of a customer who was providing Storage as a Service, assuming the business had policies for archiving, refresh rates, forecasting requirements, budgets and so on.)

The cloud providers skeptical of ITIL are right on one count, Cannon said. ITIL Version 3 — the latest one — does not tell them how to apply ITIL to the cloud. And that is because cloud is new and the ITIL books (returning to his initial point) are based on what has worked, he said. The ITIL framework “is best practice, not a best forecast,” he added. Detailed prescriptions will likely have to wait until ITIL Version 4.

But that is no excuse for not using the ITIL framework, Cannon said. “You can’t tell me there are not enough smart people out there to figure out how to apply incident management to the cloud.”

Rebuttals? Write to me at [email protected].

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