Cloud Computing: Waiting Too Long for Standards Will Cost You

There's a lot of talk right now about the fear of cloud vendor lock-in and the desire to wait for cloud standards to avoid lock-in. But some CIOs have discovered that the flip side of waiting for standardization is an opportunity cost -- for the business.

By Bernard Golden
Thu, November 18, 2010

CIO — This week has brought two fascinating and contradictory perspectives about how large IT organizations view cloud computing—and how they're responding to the messy muddle that is today's cloud computing environment.

The first article is from the UK version of CIO, which discusses the recent Intel-sponsored (INTC) data center consortium, and then quotes a number of IT executives regarding cloud computing. The second article is an interview with Michael Heim and Mike Meadows, CIO and VP, respectively, of Lilly, a large pharmaceuticals company.

The UK article is headlined: "Is the cloud just marketing hype? CIOs have their say." Using the Intel announcement as a jumping-off point, the article notes that many CIOs are overwhelmed by vendor noise in the cloud computing space, and suspect that many vendor's claims are merely "cloudwashing," or, put another way, old wine in new bottles labeled "cloud computing."

One IT executive is quoted as calling for cloud standards: "a body of common, industry-wide standards are going to be crucial." This executive appears to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, reluctant to move forward until cloud computing is available in common, standardized offerings making it easy to mix-and-match.

It's understandable that he would react in this fashion. One commonly hears a lot about the fear of lock-in—of choosing a cloud provider and then being chained to it, even if vendor or user circumstances change, making the choice no longer desirable. The goal of this approach is to ensure that the user has many fungible choices and can leverage price competition among suppliers. Given the high profile of this type of reaction, it would be easy to conclude that user organizations are waiting for the dust to settle among cloud providers, allowing an easier decision process once stability in the market has occurred.

Lilly's Take on Standards

Turning to the Lilly interview, a completely different perspective is evinced. Lilly has had a fairly high profile regarding its use of cloud computing. It's pretty well-known that it has used Amazon Web Services for large-scale number crunching. Heim's interview makes it clear that Lilly is continuing to move forward and is planning to increase its use of cloud computing. The highlights of the interview, with some comments:

Cloud computing starts with a business unit: Heim notes that it was a research group, not IT, that began experimenting with AWS. This aligns with the common experience that many early users of cloud computing are business unit users driven by pressing business goals or opportunities. This is not to say that this use is trivial, as many cloud computing detractors describe early adoption patterns. Pharmaceutical number crunching is a big deal with heavy compute use and lots of dollars at stake.

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