The Business Cloud: Hype versus Reality
There is no doubt that cloud and mobile computing models are driving technology adoption as well as changing the landscape of how consumers and businesses purchase and use IT. Accompanying any great shift – which in this case is fueled not simply by cloud technologies but by social computing – are the purveyors of propaganda and hype. Cloud computing and social media won’t make you popular, is not always safe or free, and it doesn’t whiten your teeth. What it can do is help businesses increase agility, collect and use information better and reduce the cost of change. There are many benefits to be achieved with cloud computing models, yet many providers continue to play on the hype rather taking the more difficult road of communicating how their solution actually solves real business problems.
Gartner research tracks this type of activity, producing reports offering assessments of the “maturity, business benefit and future direction of over 1,900 technologies”. In the Gartner 2011 Hype Cycle Special Report, entries were grouped into 76 different “Hype Cycles”, revealing the similar patterns of “over-enthusiasm, disillusionment, and eventual realism” that comes with every new technology or innovation. Hoping to provide guidance business IT decision makers, the report intends to inform businesses about when they should consider adopting technologies or IT models in order maximize the value of the approach.
Yet the market is bursting with definitions for “cloud computing”, and services providers offer their wares with varying levels of service and capability. It’s really difficult to compare one private cloud solution to another, as they are all seemingly offering the same value proposition described in the same language – and none of it really describing what the solution is, how the business takes the greatest advantage of it, and what disruption can be expected along the way. Layer on top of that confusion a big heap of expectation, and the belief that cloud computing technologies are somehow different from “real” on-premise systems in that they are not subject to the same potential for breakage, failure, or unexpected cost.
For example, even though Amazon may use the term “elastic”, cloud computing does not automatically create a stretchy and eternally-dynamic resource that can grow without end. There are still limitations and costs associated with growth.
There is also a great deal of hype around applications and their performance in cloud environments. When a piece of software is poorly designed and crashes frequently on a local computer or network, it is just as likely that the application will perform poorly in the cloud. It’s simply a reality of software that even great products that are designed to run exactly the way they are being run don’t have a guarantee that nothing will ever go wrong. With cloud computing models, however, there may be a service provider working in the background to manage the systems and keep things running. You simply might not notice the failures and hiccups as much, but they are still there.
And not all cloud services mean everyone is sharing servers and infrastructure. While the term cloud generally applies to multiple scaled systems, it doesn’t mean that everyone shares everything and benefits from tremendous levels of redundancy and fault tolerance. In most cases, a solution described as a “private” cloud means that the service has been customized for the unique needs of the organization, and that there are resources of certain types allocated exclusively to the use of that customer. On the other hand, a private cloud may mean that the system elements are all contained within the business infrastructure, providing “cloud” type of services but being delivered from company resources. There are a wide variety of ways to describe these configurations and approaches, and quite a bit of inconsistency in use of terminology.
The best thing for a business owner to do now is to just ignore the term “cloud” and simply consider how the business might leverage resources from service providers to gain more IT capability at reduced costs, and how outsourcing certain technology needs allows a greater focus on internal innovation and improvement. Centralized management, improved security, disaster recovery, and increased mobility are all benefits to be realized with the right business cloud implementation. Just because it is to be an outsourced solution does not mean that the business organization should not still architect and understand the solution they will depend on. If this level of participation and understanding is not in place, the solution is unlikely to deliver the resulting benefits expected and hoped for.
Outsourced IT service, remote access and server-based computing aren’t new concepts. It still requires using common sense and reasoning when considering any change in business technology and the innovative application of IT in a business – this cannot be outsourced. When it comes to cloud computing… to put it bluntly, just avoid the hype and stay away from unrealistic marketing and sales messaging. If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is. Technology hasn’t come that far.