This is a new one on me. I’ve heard of tree huggers, but Patrick Thibodeau’s piece in ComputerWorld today is the first time I’ve run into server hugger. What’s a server hugger, you ask?

According to Thibodeau, it’s a term coined by Forrester analyst James Staten, for IT folks who “have significant concerns about their ongoing value to the company if they don’t run [IT systems] themselves.” Does the term fit, or is it perhaps a wee bit early to be labeling IT folks who haven’t put all their eggs in the cloud basket?

Fear of Losing Control

Thibodeau’s piece cites a couple of reasons that managers might be reluctant to move to cloud services. One reason is loss of control.

This is less of a fear, though, than a valid concern. Strictly speaking, when you move services over to a cloud provider – whether it’s running servers on Amazon Web Services (AWS), buying into a SaaS like Salesforce.com or hosting your home-grown apps on a PaaS like Heroku – you are losing some control.

Then again, you’re also freeing yourself from some responsibilities and costs. Go with AWS, and you’re doing away with hardware costs and the costs of managing servers. Go with Heroku or Engine Yard, and you’re doing away with all that plus the OS management and such. Go with a SaaS and you don’t have to worry about managing the software at all.

But you also lose control over software updates with a SaaS. You depend on the PaaS provider’s schedule for supporting a specific release of PHP, MySQL, Ruby or whatever. Giving over control to cloud providers does sacrifice some control. Most businesses are probably going to do just fine without that level of control, but it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t take their time in getting to that point.

Loss of Status

Thibodeau’s piece also paints IT folks as fearful over status and job security when it comes to cloud services. To which I would reply, who isn’t fearful about their job status and security these days?

The unspoken suggestion here is that IT folks are placing their job security above the good of the company by choosing to keep services in-house. That isn’t really reasonable, though. Cloud is still in early adoption phase, and it’s not entirely obvious what all of the trade-offs and long-term effects will be to move services to external providers.

Thibodeau’s single CIO source in the article reports great results in moving Chipita America’s ERP, EDI, BI, mail and file servers to service providers. But just because Scott Martin has had great results doesn’t mean that every company is going to have a seamless transition – and it doesn’t mean that some companies aren’t doing better with in-house services.

Rational or Irrational?

Note that I’m not arguing for either approach. I’m merely saying that it’s a bit early to suggest that there’s One True Approach to providing services to your business. As you might guess, I’m a big fan of cloud computing and using cloud services when it’s appropriate. However, I also respect a conservative approach to adopting new technology and models of computing.

Should CIOs and other IT officials be considering cloud services to replace parts of their IT infrastructure where it makes sense? Absolutely. But watching and waiting is a valid strategy as well. It’s not useful at this point to paint managers who haven’t jumped to the new model as server huggers. Viable and well-tested cloud services have only been on the scene for a few years, and new services and technologies are being introduced almost daily.

In five years, you might be able to tag reluctant IT folk with the server hugger label and have it mean something. Right now, it’s a bit soon.