Cloud computing may bring massive changes, but they will not necessarily be felt by developers or consumers of the technology, says Lori MacVittie.
Much has been made of cloud computing's imminent arrival, centre stage, in datacentres across the world. But despite its potential for cutting capital expenditure, the big switch to the cloud is largely an internal phenomenon. For consumers of applications, cloud computing changes nothing.
Most cloud models use virtualisation and collaboration to automate and orchestrate IT processes to achieve efficiency. The number of virtual machines in servers is increasing at a phenomenal rate and is improving efficiency by sharing resources across businesses, departments and projects.
That automation of processes inherent in a cloud-computing model is designed to simplify datacentre management and free administrators from tedious and mundane tasks and give them more time to innovate.
So, cloud computing changes the way we look at resources, applications and scalability. It makes more efficient use of resources, which decreases the costs associated with application deployment and delivery. It reduces long-term management costs and frees resources across the organisation, which allows reinvestment in the business that benefits everyone.
But cloud computing does not necessarily free up the time of those responsible for developing and delivering new, innovative applications. A developer's time is not freed by changes in the administration of servers and applications, because their time was never allocated to such tasks in the first place. Nor is the time of the business or product-development stakeholder suddenly increased.
The very people who are responsible for creating and deploying new applications — who are responsible for innovating and creating new products for consumers — are not really affected by cloud computing. Of course, they may eventually end up in a better position to distribute their budgets, spending more on research and development and less on maintaining existing software.
Effect on society
Like cloud computing, electrification early in the last century brought decreased costs and administration, but also wrought massive changes in society because it directly affected consumers. The consumer then benefited from electricity in a way that consumers today will not benefit from cloud computing.
Cloud changes internally, not externally. In fact there is no reason why a move from traditional datacentre architectures to a cloud-computing architecture should change things for the consumer. The application and functionality it provides is not changing, just the way it is delivered and where it executes.
Consumers today access applications over the internet. As we move toward a cloud-computing architecture, consumers still access applications over the internet. And when we have completed the transition and are moving on to the next big thing, consumers will still access applications over the internet.
Nothing changes for consumers except perhaps the IP address of the application, and most consumers are blissfully ignorant of the host-domain name relationship to IP addresses and could not care less about it.
Cloud-computing models make IT more efficient, but the efficiencies are largely operational and financial. These changes are not seen by the consumer and, one could argue, they should not be seen. The goal is to enact such a transition seamlessly, without affecting the consumer.
Once cloud computing is more fully adopted, it is possible that then we shall start to see changes for consumers. The freeing of financial resources allows the hiring of more resources, which allows for the development of new and hopefully innovative applications designed for the end-user.
But these changes will be wrought slowly and certainly not with the blinding change that came from electricity. Cloud, for the consumer, changes nothing. At least for now.
Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.