It seems no IT related blog can exist without providing some commentary on cloud computing. Hence, I just had to post something on “the cloud”. Is “the cloud” really a full blown IT revolution? I am not convinced. Thus, I considered making the title “hey kids, get off my lawn” but I didn’t want to turn away potential “cloud is superior” readers so soon in my article without offering some evidence to support my claim.
Seriously, there has been a venerable ton of material recently suggesting a total IT revolution is underway with the advent of cloud computing. Even Microsoft and Apple are making direct marketing pitches involving “the cloud” to non-technical consumers in the mainstream media rather than burying the message in niche technology blogs. I was reading Eric D. Brown’s recent article on cloud computing and I felt compelled to respond in more depth than can usually be afforded in a blog comment. Hence the real impetus for this article.
Mr. Brown claims that “Cloud computing is both evolutionary and revolutionary.” He also references a post by Christian Verstraete, HP’s Chief Technologist for the Cloud. Both Mr. Brown and Mr. Verstraete offer credible evidence for suggesting that “the cloud” is an evolution of pre-cloud IT constructs. The applications that are available via the cloud today are the next evolutionary step from the ASP or Application Service Providers of the near recent past. By re-branding existing hosted application service offerings, companies can ride the marketing wave of “the cloud” to further tout how the latest version of their software is more cutting edge and more buzz-worthy. If “the cloud” label didn’t exist, those application service offerings would still offer ever increasing levels of additional functionality based on customer feedback and market demand. The same applies to “the cloud” for more platform/infrastructure based service offerings. Without “the cloud”, would we have the alternative: I moved my commodity servers out of my data center to “the grid”. It seems “the cloud” is even more hip, cool and expansive than “the grid” from a marketing/branding perspective. Thus, “the cloud” is evolutionary. I buy it because of the linear progression of ever increasing functionality being delivered by “cloud” offerings.
“Hey kids, get off my lawn”
I am struggling with saying “the cloud” is truly revolutionary. Mr. Brown makes the statement in support of his position: “Revolutionary in the sense that there’s no longer a need to spend thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware to get a website and/or product running.” and “There’s cost savings there that haven’t been available in years past to the small to medium sized business.” In years past, ISP’s were offering small business packages that included registering domain names, hosted collaboration solutions (email, calendaring, shared contact management/address books) as well as uniquely branded web sites with graphic design , on-line ordering/shopping carts and tiered data storage options. Yahoo Business has provided similar packages if one didn’t find their ISP’s offering met their needs for over a decade. Thus, I believe businesses had pre-cloud options to drive down costs through outsourcing their IT needs to pre-cloud, cloud-like options relative to the functional demands of the time. The farther you go back in time the more immature (relative to today) those offerings were. Or, stated another way, at any given time, the level of integration, sophistication of outsource-ability was reflective of the market demand and evolution of the provider’s technical offering. In the late 90′s, businesses were scrambling to come up with an “Internet Strategy” to figure out how to use this new, cool thing called the “World Wide Web”. The businesses of the late 90′s, small, medium or large, weren’t in a position to create immediate demand for the level of auto-provisioned, virtual capacity on demand that is available today. Hence, where Mr. Brown says “revolution”, I’m not compelled to do that far and thus stick with “evolution”.
Mr. Verstraete concludes that the ASP/grid computing to “the cloud” has been an evolution but he suggests Web 2.0 is what makes “the cloud” revolutionary. Sure, the gigantic surge in Internet usage across all generations in all countries has created a significant demand on service providers. If you were offering an application to the business community in the late 90s, you could initially have your data model reflect a co-mingling of all your individual customer’s data. As SOX, HIPAA and the increase in on-line security breaches had customer’s demanding secure data management back at the start of the previous decade. Thus. provider’s implemented separate application and supporting data instances for customers. Visualized environments allowed this trend to continue without the provider having to purchase millions of physical servers as their customer list grew. Managing all those virtual servers and copies of application code became labor intensive, thus adjusting data models to leverage “multi-tenancy” coupled with advancement in database engine data partitioning capabilities became the next wave of opportunity for providers to service more customers with secure and operationally efficient offerings. Those providers that didn’t advance their architectures found their costs exponentially increasing while the competition, that did advance, easily able to offer similar services at a much lower price point. This sounds like evolution to me.
So, is “the cloud” a total revolutionary way to offer computing services? I am just not convinced that we have a revolution but rather the next evolution coupled with a branding label “the cloud” that increases the appeal and the hype. Providers and vendors can easily jump on the labeling band wagon to get more time and attention from their prospective customers. Customers get the next version or upgrade of their favorite on-line products and services with even more functional integration and ease of use. Plus, they can set up meetings and engage consultants to help formulate a “cloud strategy”. And who doesn’t want to talk about new and emerging technology trends over having the same cost reduction problem solving discussions that have been talked to death?
Oh yeah, and kids, get off my lawn.