The Case of the Disappearing Server Hugger

The term “server hugger” first surfaced late last year in a Computerworld article by Patrick Thibodeau. It refers to information technology managers who resist moving into the cloud, clinging instead to their terrestrial computer servers.

Thibodeau glommed onto the term from James Staten, a Forrester Research analyst, who told him that many firms, particularly those with big-time investments in in-house technology, are populated by “server huggers,” folks who resist cloud-computing deployment. These are internal empire builders, some call them the emperors of the “edifice complex,” who, said Staten, “have significant concerns about their ongoing value to the company” if they don’t run the IT systems themselves. And the server huggers can buffalo their bosses, because the top managers “don’t know anything about technology so their trusted advisor is the guy trying to protect his job.”

As a company that gets it when it comes to the cloud, Thibodeau cites Chipta America, a Tulsa snack food maker, which has moved all of its core systems, including its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, Office, Exchange, and file servers to a service provider cloud. Chipita CIO Scott Martin told Thibodeau that the biggest obstacle to the shift was opposition from the incumbent IT “empire builders. Those kinds of things are really irrational and not in the best interest of the company.” 

Muzaffar Ismail, who follows cloud technology for a number of web publications, confesses to sympathy for the server huggers, commenting, “I totally understand what they are going through as virtual gods of the data center.” The huggers, he says, “have paved the way for the success of cloud computing but are now facing what every previous generation of microprocessor has met: obsolescence.” 

Huggers, says Ismail, should surrender to the “unstoppable flow of cloud adoptions” and “focus their efforts on finding out how to join the giants currently populating the field of public cloud.” He notes that Microsoft, IBM, and Red Hat are all offering courses providing certification in cloud computing and CIOs would do well to offer these courses to their server huggers “so that they may be able to stave off possible pancaking [use of redundant technologies] by the time full adoption of the cloud is finally in place.”

Cloud computing will play an ever larger role in business environmental this year, according to Vineet Jain of, writing in the Washington Post at the end of last year. “2012 will be a banner year for cloud technologies,” he says, “from real business models that don’t just push free products to developing the way companies use the cloud to enable better and smarter ways to work.” Among Jain’s predictions for 2012:

  • The “hybrid” cloud, encompassing both the conventional in-house server model and the new dispersed paradigm of the cloud will move into businesses that have been resisting the new approach. This will allow these firms “to keep the stability, speed and security blanket of having some of their infrastructure behind the firewall, married to the benefits of the public cloud.”
  • Tablets will emerge as business tools, not just as devices to read news and watch movies. “Cloud technologies are key to making tablets into business tools,” says Jain. “Because tablets lack the storage and processing power of full-blown computers, they depend on internet-based computing resources. Cloud services also enable employees and executives to use whatever devices they want: as long as it has a browser, it can work with the cloud.”
  • Cloud computing allows cloud commuting, breaking down business walls and allowing employers to find “on-shore jobs in Iowa or Idaho instead of looking to India or Ireland. Pay engineers the local wage, leave them at home, give them access to the tools of a cloud commuter, and it’s just like working from the corporate office.”

John Savageau, president of Pacific-Tier Communications, which develops data centers and computing strategies for firms in developing countries, also predicts that server huggers are an endangered IT species. “Who doesn’t believe cloud computing will eventually replace the need for server closets, cabinets or even small cages in data centers? The move to cloud computing is as certain as the move to email was in the 1980s.”

What do you think? What do you see as the potential for cloud computing in the power generation industry? Let us know by using the Comment form below.

—Kennedy Maize is MANAGING POWER’s executive editor.

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