clouds-getting-laseredI’m fascinated and bemused by this Cloud Computing phenomenon.  Never before have I had such a strong feeling that something really, really important is happening – a fundamental discontinuity, if you will, in the way we leverage IT – and yet most of my clients and those I am interacting with in a couple of multi-company research projects are essentially standing on the sidelines.

I’m reminded of the earliest days of the personal computer, when IT executives I was working with at the time scoffed at the notion of PC’s (or microcomputers as we called them back then) as anything more than home entertainment, while a little ways down the corridor from their office, business executives were “Visicalcing” away at their Apple II’s and TRS80’s!

I’m not claiming that Cloud Computing is fully ready for prime time, and that any CIO who is not leading a wholesale transformation of his computing approach is irresponsible.  But  I am seeing way more denial than is healthy or appropriate, and the level of understanding and pace of experimentation is, I fear, going to put many CIO’s further behind the 8-ball that they should be.

Why Cloud Computing Denial?

I think there’s a couple of things going on here.

  1. The vendor market, once again, by jumping on the marketing buzzword of the month, is causing confusion and leading to skepticism.  There was a great story this week about the highly respected Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, thinking he was having a joke at the expense of the world’s tech media when his company announced a $70 million cloud computing initiative.  It turns out SAS was really announcing a new server farm, but Goognight thought it would sound more appealing if the press release used the term “cloud computing”.
  2. People inevitably try to understand new technologies based on what they already know, so Cloud Computing is seen as “warmed over1960’s time sharing.”   Actually, what mystifies me here is, what was so wrong with or bad about 1960’s time sharing?  It opened the door to end user computing, fourth generation languages and report writers and business analytics.  It made computing accessible and affordable to many who could not otherwise have experienced and benefited from computing.
  3. There’s the control issue.  This gets disguised as the need to protect information and ensure availability, but I believe has more to do with an innate need to own and manage large, hairy data centers and server farms as a badge of courage.

So, What Really Is Cloud Computing?

One of the more helpful descriptions comes from CEO of OpSource, Treb Ryan’s presentation at this year’s SaaS Summit.  Treb argues that the three defining characteristics of Cloud Computing are:

  • Complete flexibility.  Not just pay-as-you-go but automated sign-up, rapid provisioning and no commitments – it’s as easy to turn off as it is to turn on.
  • Web programmability.  The ability to access and manage functionality through Web APIs are a crucial element of a true cloud platform.
  • Community resources.  Successful clouds encourage communities that share ideas, best practices and add-ons to enhance their use of the platform.

These characteristics may be a little self-serving for OpSource, but do get to the essence of Cloud Computing and help differentiate it from earlier, more limited ways of sharing compute capacity.

Time to Denigrate or Time to Experiment?

I do believe that there are untapped “edge” opportunities that yield significant business value, and can be deployed rapidly and easily, especially important under these uncertain economic conditions and constrained IT budgets.  These edge  opportunities typically lend themselves to Cloud Computing as a basis for computing and storage capacity, and to Software as a Service as a basis for solutions provisioning.

CIO’s that see these new computing approaches simply as warmed-over history, may be doomed to repeat it!  CIO’s that see through the marketing hype, and have the vision to appreciate the fundamental changes that are upon us, have a unique opportunity to steal an early march, and while their competitors are hunkering down, help their companies steal market share and innovate.

(Image courtesy of Dvice.)