Cloud Computing: do you have a clue?

Cloud Computing: do you have a clue?

Summary: Big systems vendors are spreading misconceptions about the cloud because it helps them sell more kit. Here's a rundown of some of their tactics


This week's BTL guest posting by an IBM IT architect, Cloud Computing: Is it right for you?, was an interesting insight into what the big systems vendors are telling their customers about cloud. But it was so full of misconceptions and misdirection it abjectly failed in its stated mission of sensibly guiding enterprise decision makers. Sadly, this is typical of the ill-informed conventional wisdom you'll hear from the likes of IBM, HP, Oracle and most parts of Microsoft, Accenture, Deloitte and the rest when discussing cloud computing. To help redress the balance, here's a quick rundown of some of the most egregious fallacies in the posting.

  • "Cloud Computing refers to the delivery of infrastructure components and services." This initial definition gets everything off on the wrong foot from the outset. It's very convenient for vendors of costly computing platforms to imply that cloud computing is all about buying truckloads of new kit to equip your data centers to cloud standards. Of course, it's no easy task to build a cloud data center, so you'll need lots of consulting to go with that, won't you? Yet in reality, most enterprise spend on cloud computing is on cloud applications, because it means users can get started right away on a pay-as-you-go subscription rather than having to wait 18 months while the app is scoped, provisioned and implemented.
  • "The components that are housed in the cloud on the diagram are client devices, servers and data centers." You see? No mention of applications at all, even though SaaS gets a passing mention in the following paragraph. Even worse, this statement is a misrepresentation of the original use of the cloud symbol in architecture diagrams, which represented external services (such as X.25 resources) running on third-party infrastructure. The whole point was that you didn't have to worry about the underlying infrastructure, because it was abstracted within the service.
  • "1. Does the cost benefit justify the disruption? Data center migrations are disruptive, costly, and complicated." So in just a few, short paragraphs, we have neatly segued into perpetuating the myth that adopting cloud computing is all about migrating your existing enterprise IT to a brand new cloud data center that IBM will help you to build. Neat, huh? IT people are especially prone to fall for this line of argument, because who wouldn't want to be the architect of a brand new state-of-the-art IT facility that's just like Amazon's? (Apart from all the parts where it's not, of course, because enterprise IT has so many costly additional requirements that [insert name of global systems vendor here] understands and Amazon doesn't).
  • "Some applications cannot be virtualized as they require specific underlying hardware components." Suddenly, virtualization is a synonym for cloud. Do people really still believe that in 2012? While it's true that you can't just move legacy client-server and mainframe applications into the cloud without modification, you shouldn't even be starting with the notion that's what you're trying to do in the first place.
  • "Some applications require minimal delivery speeds. If latency is an issue, it is best to keep the entire system ... local." Local to whom or what? Is the writer suggesting corporations move their entire global workforce into a single office conveniently located next to the data center to ensure subsecond response times? Perhaps instead it might prove less disruptive to upgrade the network! (Or use some cloud provider's high-speed infrastructure). Of course traditional enterprise applications are tightly coupled between app servers and databases so you'd best keep them close to each other, but any app today that can't deliver to remote workers and mobile devices without significant latency needs an upgrade.
  • "The organization has to be willing to risk placing their and their customer's data in the hands of a third party vendor." Big systems vendors and SIs like to flatter their customers, but the truth is most CIOs today realise that cloud providers tend to have more robust security than most enterprises. Since many on-premise assets are actually in co-location facilities and managed with the help of third-party IT contractors, third-party dependency in any case is not a unique characteristic of cloud computing.
  • "The last thing you want is your data to co-mingle with someone else's." If you use a co-location facility, if you send emails, if you run VPNs across the Internet, do you worry about your data co-mingling with others when the packets pass through the network's routers? Of course you don't. You know that the headers on the packets make sure that your data won't accidentally go to someone else's endpoint. Cloud vendors use exactly the same logical separation to keep your data from 'co-mingling' with anyone else's. The fact that it may be stored on the same disk or go through the same processor chip is as irrelevant as worrying about sending your physical mail through the same postal system as your competitors.
  • "When shouldn't I use cloud computing?" The conclusion sums up the entire posting as a collection of reasons why you might not want to use cloud computing — after initially defining it in a totally misleading way. Not a mention of why you should use cloud computing. No reference to any of the real-world problems of cloud adoption, such as integration between cloud and on-premise IT. As advice goes, this is hugely unbalanced as well as showing a barely rudimentary understanding of the true dynamics of cloud. Yet this is the type of reasoning trotted out daily by the representatives of the global computing establishment. No wonder people get confused.

Topic: Cloud

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • When in doubt, follow the money

  • Indeed, smoke and mirrors...

    In the attempt to seriously evaluate what parts of my network infrastructure and servers I can virtualize and which can be "clouded", I get frustrated talking with "account executives" who don't know what they're trying to sell, nor how any of it works. When I start asking basic questions, or a simple objection to using cloud services, the same phrases come out: "our engineering staff can guide you", "you just bring up the service in our cloud, and...", "with the cloud there's no administration overhead...", etc. What does any of that mean other than "I have no idea what you just said, so I'm BSing here."

    Even the engineer sorts often can't see the forest for the trees. When pitched a new cloud-hosted BI "solution" of an app we currently use in-house, on in-house located data, I said, "why would I connect across a limited internet pipe to look at my own data housed here?", I got a momentary deer-in-the-headlights, then the same "well it will just save you so much time, money, and administrative over-head." Uhm, yeah, that; what about the question I asked?

    The few that I've talked to who can realistically look at how we do things, where data and users are, and what the infrastructure is, then intelligently respond are welcome advisers and genuinely helpful... albeit, rare.
  • I refuse to cloud till IPv6

    nuff said
  • Don't understand

    I was hoping to get info on what this Cloud is. I am not a techie just a one finger typing director. First why is it called the cloud - clouds to me means rain, floods, lightning and other disasters but I assume that is not why it is called that?. I want to know why is it good for me, why store stuff up in someone elses system who I assume will charge me a lot of money for and will make it difficult to change to different suppliers if I get annoyed with them. USB hard disks are cheap as backup as well as services like Carbonite who I use to back up all my data. I assume I need some Cloud supplier in my own country in case of war as I don't want it all turned off to bankrupt me and my country. I assume who owns the cloud rules the world of information. What happens if the Cloud company goes bankrupt or can't this happen and am I being paronoid. Sorry as I said I do not understand.
    • You're not alone

      I've also posted the following to my Google+ page:

      As this article points out, many people - including those who should know - don't understand what "cloud" is. As for why it's called cloud, I don't have a real answer for that, but based on what I've seen over the past 30 years in this business, I assume it derives from the practice of using a cloud symbol on architecture diagrams as an abstract representation of "something that just is", like the Internet. It's something that somebody else has control over, someone else worries about, and you simply pay to use it.

      Probably the biggest thing you need to understand about "cloud" is that it's not a huge new technology. It's primarily a paradigm shift in how IT services (that's a key are delivered. Traditionally, IT has been paid for using capital funds. Moving to cloud enables you to use operational dollars (or whatever currency) to pay for your IT capabilities. This simple shift enables you to better understand the impact of IT on your business - and isn't that why you use IT in the first place, to enhance your ability to deliver business services to your customers?

      Additionally, using cloud computing allows you to focus on the things that are important to your business. If you're not an IT service provider, your core competency is not storage, networking, servers, and application management. You build things. You provide business services. You use IT to support your primary business function. You care about two things:

      1. You care about the applications you use. Your business processes are implemented in those applications. The things that differentiate you from your competitors are represented by those business processes.
      2. You care about the data that your applications manipulate. Your data represents your products and services. It also represents your customers and the relationship you have with them.

      Using cloud computing allows you to focus on those two things that are important to your business. You let someone else worry about all the "stuff" that happens between your app and your data. You spend your time refining your business processes and their representation in your applications. You also spend your time exploring the data you've captured about your customers so that you can identify new ways to engage them, whether that means new products and services they may find useful or simply a better way to stay in touch with them.

      When it comes to the question of why use it, you've hit on some of the key concerns that need to be addressed by your providers. Let's walk through them:

      - I want to know why is it good for me,

      I hope I've given you some understanding of why it's good for you above

      - why store stuff up in someone elses system who I assume will charge me a lot of money for

      Your data needs to be close to your applications. Your cloud service provider will charge you a fee for this service, you need to make sure you're getting value for your money.

      - and will make it difficult to change to different suppliers if I get annoyed with them.

      A very valid concern! This should be part of the service level agreement you establish with any cloud vendor. You need an exit strategy not only for your data, but also for your applications. There should be a simple way for you to "take what's yours and go away" whenever you want to

      - USB hard disks are cheap as backup as well as services like Carbonite who I use to back up all my data.

      Yes, they're cheap, but USB hard drives are not really useful if you're talking about lots of data. You need to have a robust data protection strategy (more than simple backups) to ensure your data can survive a catastrophic event. I saw a statistic somewhere (sorry, don't have the citation) that over 90% of small business that are hit by a disaster (fire, flood, serious virus infection, etc.) go out of business within two years. This is understandable from the point of view that, most of the time, small businesses don't have a complete data protection plan and the catastrophe means that they've lost access to their customer data (the lifeblood of any business!). Services like Carbonite help, but the problem there is retrieving your data quickly - and those services aren't typically used as enterprise backups

      - I assume I need some Cloud supplier in my own country in case of war as I don't want it all turned off to bankrupt me and my country.

      Data sovereignty is a critical aspect of cloud computing. In your case, you're worried about political events like war causing you to lose access to your data. In many places there are laws that forbid the storage of many types of data (personally identifying information (PII), financial data, etc.), across geo-political boundaries. These issues must be addressed - and once again, look to your SLA.

      - I assume who owns the cloud rules the world of information. What happens if the Cloud company goes bankrupt or can't this happen

      You're not being paranoid at all. Companies go out of business, merge with other companies, get sued, fall under criminal investigation, etc. all the time. You need to be concerned about a lot of different things when it comes to these issues. In the case of going out of business or merging, how does that impact your SLA? What about the privacy terms, etc.? In the case of being sued or criminal proceedings, what happens to your data (see for an example...)

      - and am I being paronoid.

      No, you're not being paranoid. The concerns you've raised (and many more) are things you HAVE TO CONSIDER before moving to a cloud-based solution.

      Don't take this as a rant against cloud computing - my job is to get people to move to cloud. I just believe that you need to make the decision to "go cloud" based on an informed business strategy. There are tremendous advantages to moving to the cloud, but you'll realize those advantages ONLY if you're taking the TACTICAL step of moving to cloud for the right STRATEGIC reasons, and only after thorough consideration of the consequences.

      Since you're using Carbonite, you've already dipped your toe into the cloudy waters, so it's clear that you see some value in the approach. Is cloud right for the rest of your IT needs? I don't know your specific situation, so I can't say. All I'll say is that you should take the time to evaluate the option and if it's right for you, negotiate an SLA that gives you the rights and capabilities you need at a price you can tolerate (chances are good you shouldn't go with the cheapest solution you can find...)

      Hope you found this helpful!
  • The Cloud has Crossed the Chasm

    Just like Geoffrey Moore's book of the same title. The cloud is only going to become more prevalent, but the issue is that it is growing faster than people can keep up and that's why we are inundated with so many sales people who don't really know how to sell the cloud. Now people need to catch up and make sense out of this whole cloud business. Cloud isn't going away anytime soon so we need to learn to deal with it.
  • Who's this blogger?

    The blogger's short bio says "Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant." I thought 1998 was when client-server architectures reigned supreme. That's confusing, too :-)
    • Re: Who's this blogger?

      @Eleutherios: In 1998 I founded a website called that covered every aspect of application servicer providers, the forerunners of today's cloud computing. It wasn't called cloud then and yes client-server reigned supreme, it was a bit like being a voice in the wilderness, but I was there at the launch of companies including NetSuite, and many others.
    • The Cloud

      The confusion stems from the fact that, the biggest cloud or The Cloud of Clouds is The Internet. Much of the "new" technology associated with "cloud computing" is those people finally getting it, what the Internet is about.

      The therm "cloud" became popular recently because of marketing. There is nothing "new" in this -- as there was nothing new in "client-server" in 1998 (my memory goes back to say 1985 with me doing "client-server" projects for various purposes).
  • I see legislative requirements aren't covered, and security is a more too

    The biggest argument against cloud computing services in some states and countries is the legal requirement to maintain certain information on an in-house system to comply with privacy laws etc. If you're having to maintain what's needed to meet the laws, then you need to look at only what the cost of the extras is and not the total cost.

    Another aspect is when you move to a cloud computing service at a third party you have no control or say over the security vetting of the staff they hire. For many organisations that's an area to be of concern as someone who may not be a threat to the service provider may hate your company with a vengeance may be very willing to steal your data and sell it on - and you'll never know or be in a position to know .

    A last aspect is when the Internet access to the service provider is down so is your business, who pays for the loss of productivity. Nor is it mentioned what happens is the service provider closes their doors or is bought out.
    Deadly Ernest
    • Re: legislative requirements

      @Deadly Ernest: More anti-cloud myths here. There are no blanket laws in any state or country that specify in-house systems. When you use a cloud service, you have an SLA and many of them do include rigorous security vetting (though in reality you're far more likely to have someone on your own staff who holds the type of grudge that results in data theft). When the cloud provider is down, you have an SLA covering that and it'll be down far less often and for shorter periods than an in-house system. The SLA will also cover what happens if the service provider is bought out or closes down. Yes, you do need to be aware of these risks and make sure you're covered but it's just a matter of using a reputable provider with the right SLA.
      • On myths

        When (all of) your data is at someone else's hands, then it's not a matter of an disgruntled employee, except if that employee happens to be someone with unconditional access to all and any of your data -- those people have all you data. What is worse, if someone else than the party with whom you have "contract" has access to the data -- happens too often, because that cloud provider in turn buys the service, or at least collocation from someone else etc. (much like what happened with the loans in the banking system -- one bank was "insuring" their funds with another and so on)
        What if there was security breach of some sort?
        If it is your systems and if you are not completely clueless, you would know. At least.

        Also, what good does the SLA do when you go bankrupt for not being able to access your own data, for breaching some law or for your competitor paying "enough" to get all of your data (all of it!!!) etc?

        I may be missing something, but are any of those cloud providers actually insuring against such situations? How much does this cost the customer? Is it always added to the cost, or is like an 100 times higher price "optional add-on"?

        There is, of course, from technical perspective great benefits to consolidate resources --- known as cloud computing these days. But the legal aspects.. and business continuity aspects are most of the time ignored.
  • Why Cloud is so 'Cloudy'

    As a long time cloud user, advocate, speaker and seller I agree with Phil's article content.

    I have been for several years citing in articles that cloud is being hyped beyond the education and understanding levels of the actual customers and doing the industry no end of dis-service. Cloud solutions be they SaaS (Software As a Service), PaaS (Platform...), IaaS (Infrastructure...) and so on all have their benefits to different customers of different sizes at different times and often for different reasons. No different than IT solutions in the past. You choose what is right for you based on your business requirements and cloud simply gives you more options to consider in today's competitive and cost concerned world. No cloud can be right for all the people all the time!

    We are seeing trends of new cloud certifications, new cloud vendors, existing vendors cloud-washing old products and increasing volumes of articles touting the good, bad and the ugly of cloud solutions. Customers and the various channels to market have a need and responsibility to themselves to self educate and better understand cloud technologies that can benefit or challenge their business models moving forwards. Examples are already appearing such as CompTIA's cloud essentials certification and Rackspace also offer one on their site.

    It is time to realise that cloud solutions have benefit and the only way to make smart decisions and know when to and not to utilise cloud is to self educate to understand what it is all about.

    I work for Cloud CRM provider Workbooks and also sit on the Board of Eurocloud UK, the governance board of the Cloud Industry Forum, Advisory to the board of SaaSMAX and Cloud Advisor to Evoco for Journey 2 Cloud methodology.

    Ian Moyse
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