Asking IT about emerging trends in enterprise computing is increasingly a fool's errand.

Open source pioneer Billy Marshall once quipped that "the CIO is the last to know," because she was too far removed from what open-source code her IT team was downloading or which SaaS services they were accessing. Now this phrase may apply to entire IT organizations, with major lines of business tuning into the cloud and tuning out IT prescriptions.

Of course, this has been happening for years. What's striking is just how pervasive the shift away from IT has become.

What IT Doesn't Know

We know cloud computing is big. We also know the cloud is outpacing traditional data center workloads. Cisco, for example, finds that from 2012 to 2017, data center workloads will grow a little more than two-fold while cloud workloads will grow almost four-fold.

What we didn't know, however, is just how clueless enterprise IT has been about the state of cloud adoption within their own enterprises. For example, according to a report from Netskope, a cloud analytics and policy company, IT thinks it has a grasp on cloud apps running within the enterprise, but in reality it may not have the foggiest clue:

In other words, IT underestimates cloud app usage within their organizations by about 10 times. That's a shocking delta between perception and reality, and means that IT has a lot of work to do, given that many of the apps being run are almost certainly not up to IT's security standards.

The potential problem is widespread across the enterprise, with different groups turning to the cloud to get stuff done: Marketing (51 cloud apps per enterprise), HR (35), Storage (26), and CRM/SFA and Collaboration (23).

The Developer/IT Divide On Clouds

It's not merely an application problem, however. Just as the chief marketing officer is going straight to the cloud to avoid IT so, too, are developers employed by the lines of business. While IT has been trying to wrap its arms around the cloud, turning to private clouds as a way to deliver some semblance of cloud benefits while keeping them behind the firewall, developers keep going direct to Amazon Web Services (AWS) or other public clouds.

Hence, while Forrester reports 30% of enterprises deploy private clouds, compared to 10% using public cloud options, the inverse is much more likely. 

Don't believe me? Let's consider some data.

Several sources have told me VMware's vCloud Director has fewer than 100 deployments worldwide, compared to roughly 200 for CloudStack and OpenStack. If that's true, there is no way 30% of enterprises are deploying private clouds—this percentage must include VMware vSphere deployments that actually are not private clouds (i.e., they're not self-service, not elastic, etc.). That 30% number probably also includes other similar deployments (Hadoop clusters, KVM deployments, etc.). 

In other words, IT may think it's running private clouds, but it really isn't. 

And 10% of enterprises using public clouds is probably too low of a number, similar to how the 30% is too high. Many enterprises use public cloud (i.e., AWS) without officially acknowledging it. If Forrester does a survey with IT decision makers, they almost certainly aren't catching all or even much of Shadow IT, deployed and managed by DevOps engineers who are tasked with getting stuff done by lines of business.

In actuality, it's probably safer to assume that 10% of enterprises deploy private clouds, and 30% of them use public clouds.

Time To Wake Up And Smell The Cloud

It's unclear what IT can do about the cloud. Traditional IT vendors have rolled out cloud management offerings, but these may simply offer IT the semblance of control without any real control. IT wants to secure and control cloud resources, but will struggle to accomplish this so long as it is off by 90% in its estimate of which cloud apps and services are running within the enterprises.

If anything, it seems like IT needs to shift away from its role as gatekeeper to instead being an enabler, one that finds different ways to deliver security. For example, Apigee enables enterprises to secure sensitive data rather than the devices or apps running beyond IT's control. These and similar measures may be ways for IT to remain relevant in a cloud-dominated enterprise, one that doesn't need or seek IT's permission to spin up another EC2 instance or start a Dropbox shared storage space.

One thing is clear: IT has no control over the cloud, and likely never will be. Time to get over it and figure out ways to live by its rules.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock