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Is it time to take the fight into the Clouds?

The years to come seem waste of breath, to server minders

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Rackspace Hosting has a vested interest in convincing IT shops that they don't need to own and operate their own servers and that they should leave it to the professionals with "fanatical support." And it looks like many companies are getting grumpy enough to give clouds a whirl.

Two and a half years ago, Rackspace started a marketing campaign with the slogan No More Servers and, in conjunction with that campaign, surveyed a bunch of IT shops in the United States and the United Kingdom to see what issues they were wrestling with in regard to their compute engines. Since that time, Rackspace has more than doubled its customer base to over 170,000, but it has barely made a dent in the millions of small and medium businesses that, according to the company's latest survey, are getting sick of managing servers.

Back in 2009, Rackspace commissioned market researcher Loadhouse to survey around 500 customers on both sides of the Pond to find out about the time and effort they were using to procure and manage their servers; that original survey is here (PDF), for your reference.

This time around, Rackspace commissioned Vanson Bourne, another market researcher, to do online interviews with companies with between 100 and 500 employees in the US and UK, with an even 250 split for both countries. This latest report (PDF) shows a number of interesting things.

Rackspace survey server time sink

Where does the (server) time go? (click to enlarge)

First, servers seem to be about the same pain in the neck in 2012 as they were in 2009. To be sure, there is a little less time, on average across all 500 shops, spent on troubleshooting server issues and doing general server management these days, but it is still more than half the time that senior IT managers say the company's admins and managers are devoting to managing their servers.

If you drill down into the 2012 report, which is called Cloud Reality Check, you won't find much variation in the time spent troubleshooting and managing servers as opposed to doing other important activities like talking to vendors and suppliers about new stuff.

In general, the IT execs polled randomly on behalf of Rackspace had plenty to complain about, and not just for servers. To put the server problem into perspective, 34 per cent of those polled said that reducing IT spending because the higher ups asked for it was a major challenge and another 53 per cent said this was a minor challenge.

The percent of sites saying that improving corporate flexibility was challenging in the same degrees, and 45 per cent said that supporting business growth and change was a major challenge. But only 24 per cent of those polled said that the hassle of managing servers as a major challenge with 55 per cent saying it was a minor challenge. Presumably the remaining 21 per cent thought babysitting their servers was a breeze.

The interesting stats culled from the latest Rackspace survey show that across the board, the griping about all kinds of issues has increased dramatically:

Rackspace survey server gripes

What are IT shops griping about regarding servers? (click to enlarge)

El Reg is a bit perplexed about what "managing spikes in compatibility" means, but it sounds like some kind of hazard that comes with dating.

The most damning data to come from the survey is that companies seem to be getting worse at doing server capacity planning. Across all survey respondents, 18 per cent admitted that they bought too many servers, wasting money, and 45 per cent said they didn't buy enough capacity, which means end users get grumpy because there is not enough iron to drive the apps. Far fewer companies were bragging that they always got their capacity planning right – 37 per cent in 2012, down from 49 per cent in 2009.

Back in 2009, Rackspace asked senior IT people at SMB shops if they expected to outsource their servers in the next two to five years, and 44 per cent said they didn't know, with 33 per cent saying yes and 22 per cent saying no. Here we are, two and a half years later, and only 2 per cent of the shops polled have outsourced their servers, but now 38 per cent are saying they are going to and only 41 per cent are still hugging their racks. The funny bit about this is that over the ensuing years, companies seem to have become more certain of their plans.

If this survey is any guide, then cloud providers have their work cut out for them. Companies are more nervous about security, reliability, real cost savings, and transparent pricing when it comes to hosting and cloud computing than they were back in 2009. The positions are hardening between those who will jump to clouds and those who won't because they are not sure the payoff is real and the pain can be reduced.

It would be interesting to know if these shops are using virtualization and other tools to see if they are at least managing more servers (virtual or physical or both) with the same amount of time and effort. It would also be good to see what IT shops think they are spending to manage a typical server in their shops and how this compares to similar capacity from cloud infrastructure providers. ®

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