I was recently involved in a roundtable discussion (first of series) that aims to try and dispel some of the myth that surrounds Cloud Computing and attempts to get the focus away from the technology and more to the business outcomes it affords. For my part I was asked to write a pre-amble to frame the discussion which I thought some of you may enjoy…
“I signed up for a career in IT because I was a dreamer (and maybe I watched a little too much Star Trek as a kid). My dream was all of the great things that technology could enable in a modern society. 20 years on, I’m still here and I’m still living the dream – great things have happened, massive change has taken place and technology is pretty much a pervasive part of the way we each live, work and play.
So when a couple of year ago, we began down the hype curve of cloud computing being "the future of IT" you can imagine my interest, what is this thing that could be so important and yet so elusive to describe, understand and in some cases deliver? I set out on a quest to find out the transformative outcomes that cloud computing would enable.
If cloud really was the future, I wanted it to solve world peace, find cures for major medical problems, save the planet, hell, I also secretly wanted it to give me that hoverboard I’ve been promised in so many late night low budget sci-fi films.
But as you all well know, and as I now understand – cloud computing in itself is not an outcome, it is merely an enabler, a quiet, yet substantial, aid to let us be better at doing what we do.
Starting a conversation with cloud computing is a bit like standing up at the beginning of the movie and declaring "Bruce Willis is a Ghost!". Ultimately that’s the destination, but in itself it’s meaningless. Without understanding the context of where you actually are and, more importantly, really getting underneath the outcome you want to achieve, you’re going to struggle to make sense of why cloud is even relevant, never mind so beneficial that it could completely transform the way you do business.
As technologists, our job is to make technology as transparent as possible, we must resist the temptation to lead with the solution. I firmly believe our job is to ensure that people are focused on the actual task in hand not on how to operate the tools – the less people have to worry about how the technology works, the more they can focus on whatever it is that is important and unique to them.
To do this we really need to stay focused on the (holistic) outcomes that our customers are looking for, and then find the right way to make technology as transparent as possible to ensure their success and in a way, this becomes one of the key strengths of the cloud approach. Like so often in this game, we tend to view everything in a binary manner – all or nothing. When talking about cloud, we assume it’s everything to the cloud or nothing at all. In reality it will actually is much more fluid than that.
There are four key pillars that provide the cloud platform for our success, each are important and relevant, but for different reasons and applications. The pillars start on the far left with the traditional on premise datacentre, next the same but virtualised. For the third we make a big leap out of the organisation to a private cloud and finally on the far right, our old friend the public cloud. The important thing to recognise is that each of these pillars are essential in the delivery of a technology foundation and what is really required is a way of seamlessly moving from left to right as the solutions and economics allow. Public cloud has a lot to offer, by sheer virtue of the economies of scale, at the other end, the on-premise data centre is still important for some who may have more significant demands around control and performance. Many organisations get lost in this discussion, spending countless hours debating where they want to be on the scale. The simple truth is that the economics of each pillar should actually make the decisions obvious. Ideally all the commodity, infrastructure stuff should exist where it’s cheapest and all the complex, unique stuff where you have more control. Ultimately the answer will be that organisations will exist in multiple places, creating the concept of the hybrid cloud.
One of the other common problems stemming from the ambiguity of "cloud computing" is the confusion between infrastructure and innovation in how we procure and design cloud based solutions. I think of cloud computing as a spectrum, at one end there is the infinitely scalable, ultimately agile promise that has received so much of the cloud computing limelight and at the other end, there is the no-frills, black box, commodity service – IT’s equivalent of the electric grid. All too often we see customers trying to be agile and innovative with a no-frills commodity service and ultimately getting frustrated with the results. This is not helpful and it adds to the confusion and concern about the viability of cloud computing in any context. If we identify and separate out the areas where we want basic, commodity vs those where we want the agile and flexibility cloud also affords, we will enable far greater success not just in the use of cloud computing, but in the ultimate outcomes our customers are looking to achieve.
I suspect that in 10 minutes, I’ve not managed to help clear any of the confusion or ambiguity that exists around this critical area, but I do hope that I’ve at least managed to set the stage for what promises to be a fascinating debate.
Finally, all to often when I’m talking about cloud computing I’m reminded of a conversation I had as a kid with my Dad, an engineer of some repute who wanted me to follow in his footsteps but was obviously frustrated at my lack of talent in the key areas of thermodynamics and thrust co-efficients – he used to watch me, bumbling my way around the workshop, hammer in hand looking for things I could hit, he would simply smile and say "Dave, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Cloud computing represents a very powerful hammer – our responsibility as technologists is to make sure it strikes home on the right nails…”