Cloud Computing Report Card: Grading Our Predictions

In the spirit of openness and with a willingness to have his cloud prognostication grades displayed in public, CIO.com's Bernard Golden scores--and comments on--his predictions for 2011.

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The confusion and muddle in this area will, if anything, grow during 2012. Many IT groups view building a private cloud as a core requirement and will focus on it throughout the year. Application groups will make their decisions based on what they think is most productive, buffeted by lobbying and sales efforts by all providers, both internal and external.

If you're tired of this discussion, be prepared to be even more fatigued in 2012.

Grade: A+

Prediction 3: More hybrid cloud confusion

I see more vendor hype and end-user wishful thinking on this topic than any other in cloud computing. Vendors breezily assert and end users blithely repeat that the future will be applications effortlessly, transparently and automatically migrating between internal IT infrastructures and external cloud providers.

Comment: Totally right on this. The vendor display area at CloudExpo was filled to the brim with vendors proclaiming how their solution provides easy and transparent "hybrid cloud functionality." All of them stated or implied that workloads would "automagically" transition back and forth between an on-premise and external cloud.

More astonishingly, when queried about how this magic functionality works, booth personnel either couldn't describe how it operates, or described use cases so circumscribed that they wouldn't address anything one would recognize as real-world. I feel sorry for IT organizations that are bedazzled by the smoke and mirrors and only later realize that they've wasted time (and, perhaps, money) on technology that can't deliver what it promises. Given the rich history of enterprise software vendors over-promising and under-delivering, maybe this is what it meant by enterprise cloud.

Grade: What's higher than A+?

Prediction 4: Application architecture challenges

As IT organizations deploy their first cloud computing applications, they'll find achieving agility and elasticity is hard--and requires new application architectures.

Implementing robust applications to run on less-than-robust infrastructure imposes design requirements for redundancy, failover and session isolation. Designing elastic applications that can automagically grow and shrink in response to application load necessitates functionality that allows graceful on-the-fly configuration without human intervention.

Comment: Right, and more to come. Most IT organizations are absorbed in deciding what form (and provider) of cloud computing to adopt and have not yet confronted the challenges of designing applications to run in whatever environment is ultimately selected. However, it's nearly universal that once an IT organization gets around to trying to build those magic elastic apps, they learn the difference between virtualization and cloud computing, and recognize how much additional effort will be required to gain the benefits of cloud computing.

We've worked with companies this year who learn how much is changed by implementing "true" cloud applications. Achieving robustness, disaster recovery, application lifecycle--and more--are affected by running elastic applications in cloud environments. I believe we'll hear much more about this during 2012.

Grade: B

Prediction 5: IT operations challenges

Operations will be challenged in three ways during 2011. The first challenge is associated with process re-engineering. The manual operations practices in place at most organizations aren't sufficient for the self-service vision of cloud computing. Application groups will clamor for the immediate resource availability associated with the public cloud providers, and will expect internal IT operations to respond as quickly. That's challenge number one.

Comment: Right, but it's still early days. What many people fail to understand is how quickly applications are growing in complexity and scale. Applications are way beyond the venerable three-tier and often contain multiple levels of caching, calls to external services, different types of databases, and use of one or more content distribution networks. Yet IT organizations, for the most part, struggle to manage this complexity with the same operations processes used when a single web server talking to an Oracle database through a WebLogic application server was the acme of complexity.

It's unfortunate that more advanced practices have picked up the label "DevOps." Not because it's wrong or inappropriate, but because the label attracts skepticism and derision. The issue is how to run applications in production and the fact that the old methods can't keep up. Whether you call it "DevOps" or choose another label, you will confront this in the future.

Grade: B

Cloud Computing Conclusion

On balance, the grades show an inclination toward premature prediction. The ones that graded out poorly reflect a slower pace of adoption than expected or, put less charitably, a misguided belief in how quickly organizational change occurs. While of none of the predictions are flat-out wrong; neither are they completely perspicacious.

What you can say is that, despite many calling cloud computing over-hyped, 2011 saw end-user interest in cloud computing continue to grow dramatically. The predictions' pace may have been wrong, but the direction was, I think, right.

In my next post, I'll take a crack at what 2012 will bring for cloud computing.

Bernard Golden is CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, which specializes in virtualization, cloud computing and related issues. He is also the author of "Virtualization for Dummies," the best-selling book on virtualization to date.

Follow Bernard Golden on Twitter @bernardgolden. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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