by Neil Ward-Dutton

Cloud Computing, it’s both more, and less, than you think

May 17, 2010
Cloud ComputingData CenterMobile Apps

After helping to kick this Cloud Computing debate off, I’ve been watching the subsequent Debate pieces here with a great deal of interest. There have been some great insights from CIOs, consultants and even a lawyer…

If I had to summarise the positions of the CIOs interviewed in a couple of words, my response would be “open-minded, but cautious”. Caution is hardly surprising, given the amount of Cloud Computing confusion in industry – confusion which is being fuelled not only by hyperbole and oversimplification but also by significant amounts of “cloudwashing” (attempts to make only tangentially relevant products and services look like Cloud Computing).

Let’s look at one area of hyperbole and oversimplification: Cloud Computing is about a platform “stack”: infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS). The trouble with this viewpoint is that it seems to make sense when you take a quick glance at things from a purely technical perspective – but it also makes Cloud Computing look like something that stands completely alone from the rest of the computing universe, and this is clearly rubbish. It’s one of the things that makes people nervous about technology integration questions – regardless of the fact that organisations the world over have managed to connect their systems together over the Internet using Web Services protocols and even variants of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) for decades now.

Who’s to say that IaaS can’t be used to deliver custom-built applications that are private to individual enterprises? Who’s to say that outsourcers can’t use PaaS offerings to deliver tightly controlled offerings to customers? There’s nothing to say that the pay-as-you-go, utility billing model that some Cloud infrastructure providers use has to be passed onto end customers by service intermediaries.

While we’re on the subject of outsourcing, here’s another one: the canard that Cloud Computing will deliver us a legion of new, specialised service providers that are able to pull the rug out from underneath established IT outsourcing players. The truth: Cloud Computing is likely to have a significant impact on outsourcers – but primarily by making their own existing application and infrastructure outsourcing businesses more profitable. For these providers Cloud Computing isn’t disruptive to the extent that it undermines their business model; it’s something they can leverage behind the scenes (if they’re smart).

I’ve also come across quite a few people who assume that “public Clouds” and “private Clouds” should be an either-or proposition. The truth, though, is that both public and private Clouds can deliver value – but crucially, the value they can deliver is not the same. There are two things happening in parallel as Cloud Computing develops. The first is, of course, service-oriented delivery of infrastructure of infrastructure and applications over the Internet based on a utility pricing and billing model. This is “public Cloud”. The second, which underpins the first, is the ongoing maturation of service-oriented and open data centre infrastructure, which builds on principles that were implemented first in mainframes and latterly in the kinds of Service Delivery Platforms (SDPs) that telecoms providers use. Private Cloud deployments take infrastructure that looks quite a lot like the stuff that Amazon, Google et al use to deliver their public Clouds, and drop it into your data centre for you (or someone you hire) to feed and water.

In other words, both Public and Private Cloud models represent the trickle-down effect in action – working on diffusion of “the new IT infrastructure” from large multinational online service providers to enterprises in other industries. Public Cloud is taking an online service consumption route; Private Cloud takes a traditional product purchase route. It should be no surprise, then, that the value of these two things is fundamentally different: and in fact, they’re complementary. The table below provides a summary of how public and private Cloud propositions differ.

I fully expect that organisations will use Private and Public Cloud offerings together over time. However to my mind, a more important truth than this is that neither Public or Private Cloud models will deliver significant value to any company in the medium term unless that company first understands the strategic roles that IT plays in its business, and is in a position to align investment approaches with those roles.

As is so often the case with new IT models and concepts, it turns out that the answer is not to think about Cloud Computing as a product with point-in-time applicability – it’s something that may apply in some places today, and more places tomorrow. The only way to understand the applicability of Cloud Computing is in the context of your own strategic business needs and pressures.

Response Summary

CIO Debate Part 10: Four cloud compliance best practices for CIOs CIO Debate Part 9: Cloud computing is an alternative to outsourcing

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