Cloud, a new and shiny package

Posted: May 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

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.

  1. Jason C says:

    I completely agree that cloud has differing value based on workload and also that “Cloud” is overused as a term which can mean different things to different people (e.g. virtualisation is not nessasarily a piece – rather an agile or elastic infrastructure of which virtualisation is could be a component of).

    I think developing a cloud strategy is still very important for all organisations (even if the outcome is status quo), the issue is that many still see cloud as infrastructure, where it really needs to be looked at in terms of workloads and applications.

    I think you will see over the next 3-4 years a significant change the cloud market where hosted private clouds and public clouds will become more feature rich and become a serious option to traditional and private cloud environments, enabling organisations to focus on thier core business and getting value from the information they have.

    • My argument remians that it’s not a cloud strategy that businesses (and thus the IT dept) should be defining), but a holistic IT strategy (which aligns with the business). IT needs to get it’s head around all the various options and solutions and define a decision making framework that will guide them and the business. It’s not my idea, but the concept that IT deptartments are the brokers between the business units and the technology solutions needs to become the norm.
      I believe what we’re are seeing in the IaaS, Paas, SaaS is potentially the same thing that happened to IT with the rise of the x86 server, when mainframes were the norm in IT departments. If IT departments don’t understand the options and how they can integrate into a cohesive strategy, then we’ll see a boom in business units steering around IT and putting in solutions that don’t fit well into the business and then expecting IT to somehow integrate them and protect them.
      There are a pile of applications installed in server rooms around the world that are not going anywhere soon and these need to be maintained and integrated into the ever progressing whole. This need to maintain the legacy applications is half the reason virtualisation is so popluar. On the otherside, does it make sense to run your LOB applications that need to integrate into location speficic systems. on remote systems miles away from the site; increasing the risk of a loss of service and increasing the cost to try and mitigate that risk?

      So I come back to the initial point, just because cloud is the popular collection of technology of the moment doesn’t mean we throw out the fundementals of IT and blindly follow the trend. The fundementals didn’t change with the rise of x86, they didn’t change with virtualisation, they certainly didn’t change with outsourcing.

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