Archive for May, 2012

I’m loathed to use the word “Cloud”, it’s become a sales and marketing catch cry and an easy way to encapsulate whichever strategy or technology stack that’s being pushed. The danger now is that whole IT strategies are being simplified and boiled down into the simple question of whether and when to move to a “Cloud Strategy”.

Let’s pick apart the term “Cloud” into its conceptual technological pieces; there are four strands that make up the generally accepted term “Cloud”. (Yes you could argue that some do or don’t apply, especially when you consider SaaS but it still holds true in general terms)

  1. Virtualisation
  2. Automation
  3. Self Service
  4. Service Orientated Model

Potentially if you are thinking “public cloud” then you can add the following

  1. Outsourcing

Now when you step back a bit a look at that breakdown you’ll see that there’s nothing really new here. Granted virtualisation in its current form has only really been around for ten years or so in the x86 world thanks to VMWare, but the concept has been around for a lot longer.

My point however is that all of these concepts have been around for a long time on their own, there’s nothing new here and some companies have embraced some or all of them to varying degrees, depending on the payback to the company in real dollar terms.

What’s changed now is that the whole set of conceptual strategies have been bundled up into a new shiny package and been labelled the “Cloud”. There is no singular one size fits all cloud strategy; when setting any IT strategy, the question should be, ‘what do we need to focus on to enable our company to succeed in its businees strategy? Which concepts and technologies should we invest in, based on its projected payback to the business?’

Even within those base concepts there are options and directions to take, do we need to deliver self provisioning of servers and automated scale out provisioning? Or do we need to focus on delivering on-demand replicas of production systems for test and development?

At least in a New Zealand context, I can’t see businesses en mass being willing to invest (capex or opex) in the full gamut of solutions potentially available under the cloud umbrella if they don’t show a real payback. In fact my fear is the whole repackaging and presentation of the cloud is going to have the effect of obscuring real benefits because the whole “Cloud” concept seems so big and difficult.

The company I work for is a prime example of some parts of the cloud package having greater value than others. Generally our application stack is fairly static, new applications are rolled out relatively infrequently and the changes in demand for those applications doesn’t heavily fluctuate. However change within those applications happens frequently, modifications in settings, code and functionality are happening all the time. Our current static set of test and development systems are frequently out of sync with production or are being used for multiple projects. This  makes it difficult to ensure that the behaviours tested are replicated in production. For us the ability to quickly deploy cloned subsets of production into isolated test environments would be of high value whereas automated breathe-in,breathe-out scale out applications is of little value.

Simply put, adopting a “Cloud” strategy, without putting in the time to understand the business problems and possible solutions is likely to leave you with a shiny package with nothing of value inside.