Does IT see the writing on the cloud wall?

April 15, 2009

Does IT see the writing on the cloud wall?

For the last six months or so I have been researching cloud computing. More recently, our team has started writing our next Dummies Book on Cloud Computing. Typically when we start a book we talk to everyone in the ecosystem — vendors big and small and lots of customers.  For example, when we started working on SOA for Dummies almost three years ago we found a lot of customers who could talk about their early experience. Not all of these companies had done things right. They had made lots of mistakes and started over. Many of them didn’t necessarily want their mistakes put into a book but they were willing to talk and share.  As I have mentioned in earlier writings, when we wrote the second edition of SOA for Dummies we had a huge number of customers that we could talk to. A lot of them have made tremendous progress in transforming not just their IT organization but the business as well.

We had a similar experience with Service Management for Dummies which comes out in June. Customers were eager to explain what they had learned about managing their increasingly complex computing and business infrastructures.  But something interesting in happening with the Cloud book. The experience feels very different and I think this is significant.

Our team has been talking to a lot of the vendors — big and small about their products and strategies around the cloud. Some of these vendors focused on some really important problems. Others are simply tacking the word cloud in front of their offerings hoping to get swept up in the excitment. But there is something missing. I think there are two things: there is a lack of clarity about what a cloud really is and what the component parts are. Is it simply Software as a Service? Is it an outsourced infrastructure? Is it storage capacity to supplement existing data centers? Is it a management platform that supports Software as a service? Does cloud require a massive ecosystem of partners? Is it a data center with APIs? Now, I am not going to answer these questions now (I’ll leave some of these to future writings).

What I wanted to talk about was what I see happening with customers.  I see customers being both confused and very wary. In fact, the other day I tried to set up a call with a senior executive from a large financial services company that I have spoken to about other emerging areas. This company always likes to be on the forefront of important technology trends. To my surprise, the executive was not willing to talk about clouds at all.  Other customers are putting their toes in the cloud (pun intended) by using some extra compute cycles from Amazon or by using Software as a Service offerings like Some customers are looking to implement a cloud-like capability within their own data center. Could it be there they are afraid that if they don’t offer something like Amazon’s EC2 cloud that they will be put out of business? Just as likely they are worried about the security of their intellectual property and their data.

I predict that the data center is about to go through a radical transformation that will forever change the landscape of corporate computing. Companies have recognized for a long time that data centers are very inefficient. They have tried clustering servers and virtualizing their servers with some level of success.  But the reality is that in time there will be a systematic approach to scalable computing based on the cloud.  It will not be a simple outsourced data center because of the transition to a new generation of software that is component based and service oriented. There is a new generation of service management technologies that makes the management of highly distributed environments much more seamless. The combination of service oriententation, service managment, and cloud will be the future of computing.

The bottom line is that while the vendor community sees dollar signs in this emerging cloud based world, the customers are afraid. The data center management team does not understand what this will mean for their future. If everything is tucked away in a cloud what is my job? Will we still have a data center? I suspect that it will not be that simple. At some point down the line we will actually move to utility computing where computing assets will all be based on a consistent set of standards so that customers will be able to mix and match the services they need in real time. We clearly are not there yet. Today there will be many data center activities that either cannot or will not be put into a cloud. Internal politics will keep this trend towards clouds moving slowly.

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About Judith Hurwitz

Judith Hurwitz is an author, speaker and business technology consultant with decades of experience.

  1. I actually think that you are wrong. SaaS is a legitimate form of cloud computing. The cloud is not a brand new technology. It is the evolution of computing — as is every new innovation. Nothing is totally new — anything worthwhile doesn’t come out of nowhere. There are hosting companies that will remain hosting companies. However, there will be plenty of data centers that have the potential to evolve into cloud centers. The cloud market is very early but it is going to become one of the primary way that customers purchase services.

  2. Karl Schulmeisters June 23, 2009 at 2:03 pm Reply

    It is a mistake to conflate SaaS with Cloud Computing. SaaS is simply an evolution of the old time-share model but using the internet and VPNs to deliver the service in place of leased lines. The only difference exists in SaaS offerings that are willing to expose XML based APIs for incorporation into larger applications. And examples like are not in this category.

    Distinguished from this is the category of capabilities that are designed as component capabilities. IM, Email, Authentication, message routing/Service Bus are examples of this sort of “component SaaS”.

    Lastly you have traditional outsourcing/hosting vendors that are pretending to be “cloud” vendors simply as a way of extending their hosting and co-lo clients. But really the only thing that has changed here is that instead of provisioning a full box/customer, instead these vendors are now using VMs to provision mulitple customers per/box.

    Customers are rightly confused and “scared” because the SaaS vendors – as well as Hosting vendors are going out of their way to muddy the waters so that they too can take advantage of the cloud hype

    Meanwhile security and operational principles of the cSaaS capabilitie are set at 3 Nines level, which isn’t really sufficient for even Business Critical much less Mission Critical apps.

  3. Thank you for your comments. I agree that there is a lot to learn from the history of computing. Clearly security is one of the most important issues related to the acceptance of cloud. We plan to have a huge focus on security in general and the security of data. We are starting to talk to a lot of customers but there is still limited experience for people to learn from. We plan to have short case studies throughout the book based on what people have done so far. I am sure in the second edition of the book we will have a lot of deep case studies but the market isn’t quite there yet. Judith

  4. Judith:
    Good thinking on how Cloud Computing may be a transforming technology for IT and data centers. This may be similar to the disruptive effect in the 1980s of minicomputers on the mainframe shop and, in turn, PCs and networks in the ’90s and beyond.
    The one issue that has always lagged with each successive transformation has been security. The result is the well-known dreary succession of disasters with each new generation which seemed to have learned nothing from the previous generation’s solutions. Microsoft made a valiant attempt to include security, from the beginning, into Windows NT (full disclosure: I was a joint author of the first book on security for NT, published by Microsoft Press.) Sadly, this desirable mindset atrophied after David Cutler, the NT architect and visionary, moved on to pastures new.
    Now with Cloud Computing, we need to ensure that security (aka information risk management and data privacy/protection) is included from the beginning before enterprises entrust their most valuable corporate asset – their business data – to the Cloud.
    Great idea to develop a Dummies Book on Cloud Computing! Will security principles and practices be included so those (so-called) Dummies can profit from past experience?

  5. This is a very good overview of Cloud Computing. The only comment I make, having been in the IT industry for 30+ years is that I don’t believe change will be that fast, particularly for the larger organisations.

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