Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cloud Computing is Like Sex

Last night while discussing with some senior IT executives the hyperbole that currently surrounds public cloud computing the thought struck me that public clouds are like sex. If you think about it, Oprah makes millions of dollars a year talking about sex. A practitioner such as Heidi Fleiss (a.k.a., the "Hollywood Madam”), however, does not fare as well. Ms. Fleiss, as you may or may not remember, ended up in jail.

The relevance to cloud computing is that industry analysts can make a lot of money talking about public cloud computing. In contrast to Ms. Fleiss, IT organizations that entrust their data and critical applications to public cloud vendors based largely on the hype in the marketplace will probably not end up in jail. They will, however, expose both their company and their careers to unnecessary risk.

There are aspects of the cloud computing vision that are real today and which offer value today.  However, as an industry we need to get past all of the hype and fluff and talk about what is real and what it takes for IT organizations to take advantage of cloud computing.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nicholas Carr's Simplistic View of Cloud Computing

Nicholas Carr is at it again.  After the dot com implosion, Carr wrote an article in the Harvard Business review entitled "IT Doesn't Matter".   In the article, Carr aruges that since information technology is generally available to all organizations, it does not provide a permanent strategic advantage to any company.  One of the reasons that I find Carr's argument to be simplistic is that it assumes that all company's are equally adept at utilizing IT to their advantage.  This is clearly not the case.  Another reason is that he seems to dismiss the idea of using IT to get a strategic advantage that while not permanent, will be in affect for years.  The IT organizations that I deal with are quite pleased if they can help their company get a two year advantage over their competitors.

Carr recently authored "The Big Switch" and again his arguments are simplistic.  The book begins with a thorough description of how the electric utilities developed in the US.  He then argues by analogy that Cloud Computing is the future of IT.  The analogy being that the provision of IT services will evolve exactly the same way as the provision of electicity did.  

I have two primary concerns with Carr's argument.  The first is the fact that any argument by analogy is necessarily week.  The generation of electricity and the provision of IT services may well have some similarities, but they are not the same thing.  My second concern is that the way the book reads, Carr has already determined that the future of IT is Cloud Computing and is out to convince the reader of that.  There is no real discussion in the book of the pros and cons of Cloud Computing merely the repeated assertion that the future is Cloud Computing.   Perhaps the closest that Carr comes to discussing the pros of Cloud Computing is when he quotes some anonymous industry analyst as saying that Amazon's cost of providing Cloud Computing services is one tenth of what it would cost the traditional IT organization.  There is, however, no citation or backup of any kind to allow us to better understand that assertion.

More important, there is no discussion in the book of what has to happen from a technology perspective to make Cloud Computing viable.  Cloud Computing might well be a dominant force in the provision of IT services some time in the future.   Cloud Computing, however, involves the sophisticated interaction of numerous complex technologies.  Carr would have better served the industry if he had spent some attention identifying the impediments that inhibit Cloud Computing and provided his insight into when those impediments will be overcome.

Jim Metzler