Streaky Freaky CloudsI’ve been posting on and off about Cloud Computing since I began this blog a couple of years ago.  But, as one who spends most of his time with IT leaders of large global enterprises, sometimes the promise of the Cloud seems more like a mirage!

I’ve Looked At Clouds From Both Sides Now

Back in August 2008, not being able to resist the title to the wonderful Joni Mitchell and her reference to “cloud illusions I recall”, I posted on the denial I was witnessing among my client base.   I likened it to the denial that was common among CIO’s back in the early 1980’s.  To quote from that post:

(CIO’s) were mostly in denial, even as executive offices just down the corridor from the CIO’s office were beginning to become home to a variety of rogue PC’s – machines such as Apple II’s and Radio Shack TRS 80’s.

Fast forward 25 years or so. Now the press is full of predictions and prognostications about Cloud Computing, several key players are investing heavily in this space (pun intended) but many CIO’s and CTO’s either just don’t believe it, see it as warmed over service bureau computing from the 60’s and 70’s, or believe it’s the greatest threat to enterprise computing sanity since computer viruses first appeared.

Now, nearly 1 year later, I’m still seeing the same denial – Cloud Computing, for the most part, is on the back burner – a technology to watch!  Clearly, there are significant risks with the untried, standards are still evolving, and there’s something intimidating about such a simple concept being able to replace so much enterprise technology and expertise – the “heart and soul” of the typical IT organization.  In fact, for many IT shops, this “heart and soul” is where they’ve invested many of their improvement efforts over the last few years, implementing ITIL and process improvement approaches.  That’s been a hard-won fight, and CIO’s are loathe to admit that there might now be an easier and better way!

In another post earlier this year on The Dangers of Cloudy Thinking, I wrote:

I’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.

Hincliffe’s “8 Ways That Cloud Computing Will Change Business”

Dion hits the nail on the head once more with his excellent June 5 post in which He says:

(Cloud computing offers) benefits that can potentially change the game for many firms that are willing to be very proactive in managing potential downside. These include access to completely different levels of scale and economics… Easier change management of infrastructure including maintenance and upgrades (cloud vendors extensively virtualize and commoditize the underlying components to make them non-disruptive to replace and improve) … Cloud computing also offers an onramp to new computing advances such as non-relational databases, new languages, and frameworks that are designed to encourage scalability and take advantage of new innovations such as modern Web identity, open supply chains, and other advances.

He goes on to show the major pros and cons, and then to cite 8 compelling ways that cloud computing can change business.

Cloud Computing – Ideal for the “Edgy” Opportunities?

Dion refers to the use of cloud computing beyond “edge” computing (which he describes as minor applications and non-critical business systems).  This is the only place where I take issue – I think “edge” computing is where the exciting action is, where the high value and innovative opportunities lie.

Back in July 2008, I posted on “Edginess and Innovation.”  In that post, I differentiated between “core” and “edge”:

Many IT leaders when talking about the “core” are referring to the “legacy” systems…  built over the years and have to maintain.  But in reality, the core goes much deeper than the systems and technologies. Business processes – especially when you include the unautomated practices and workflows that interact with the automated ones, are hard to change. The mindsets that dominate “core” thinking and “edge” thinking are radically different. I’ve noted before that quality guru Joseph Juran distinguished between “preventing bad change” (keeping processes under statistical control” and “creating good change” (innovating processes and products, or creating “breakthrough” performance as Juran put it) and the different management approaches and structures each requires. Most IT leaders have focused for years on management approaches more consistent with preventing bad change than creating good change. This has created a mindset that abhors risk taking.

I believe most of the “core” opportunities have been addressed in the typical global enterprise.  Sure, there’s always more to do (and the trap of saying “yes” to all the business requests to continually tweak and bolt onto core systems) but I believe you can move the business value needle significantly to the right by tackling more of the “edge” opportunities, and that is where, to Dion’s point, the Cloud (and its related technologies) offers real promise – now!

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