The cloud is forked

The cloud is forked

Summary: Enterprises are adopting two types of cloud. One is less risky but inherently flawed. The other offers greater rewards but very few so far have succeeded with it.


There's a huge variety of different definitions of cloud floating around. Some are just plain wrong, while others are only valid in specific circumstances — cloud strategies that are right for certain organisations at certain times aren't necessarily right for others (or even for the same organisation later on in its evolution). It's tough for any enterprise decision-maker to figure out the right path.

While pondering this conundrum, I recently found some insightful perspectives in a blog post by Randy Bias. Despite our previous disagreements over the future of private cloud, I felt that in Cloud Computing Came to a Head in 2011, he has put his finger on a crucial distinction: there are two types of cloud out in the world. Or, as I've put it in the title of this post, the cloud is forked.

How has this happened? It's because people take a while to digest the full extent of what it means to go cloud. Bias' post is very helpful in this respect, because he describes the various phases his own thinking has gone through over the past few years, seeing cloud first as being all about IT automation, then as virtual machines in virtual data centers, and then finally — and most radically — as "a new kind of IT."

That final leap is where the fork has opened up. As Bias observed, "I could see that most everyone involved in the cloud computing space was spending time trying to retrofit the notion of ‘cloud computing’ to their existing business models and technology." This type of behavior is, frankly, a frequent phenomenon with emerging technologies. I think of it as 'horseless carriage syndrome' — the propensity to interpret a new technology using familiar concepts from the existing world, rather than seeing it in its full, native potential. In the SaaS world, it leads to what I long ago called SoSaaS — Same old Software, as a Service.

In the cloud environment, the 'retrofitting' that Bias alludes to results in private cloud projects whose main focus is on lowering operating costs and perhaps integrating better to some public cloud resources, but otherwise carrying on much as before. In the past, I've warned against this approach, and Bias notes that many such projects end up not only unable to deliver the benefits of cloud computing, they don't even achieve a proper return on investment. Nevertheless, this is the type of cloud strategy that many of the established enterprise vendors and systems integrators will recommend. It's very commonly adopted by organisations that find it more palatable than the disruptive move to 'web-scale cloud' that Bias argues is preferable because of the "business agility and top-line revenue growth" it enables. But he concedes that this form of cloud is poorly understood by all but a few practitioners.

So, as Bias concludes, we have ended up with two ways to implement cloud in the enterprise: "clouds built using existing 'enterprise computing' techniques and those using emergent 'cloud computing' technologies and thinking." The cloud is forked, and while one path, though well-trodden, seems fundamentally flawed, the other remains a more challenging work-in-progress. A fork, then, that embodies the horns of a dilemma for enterprise decision makers. The path with less risk offers negative rewards, while the path with most potential rewards embodies far more risk.

See also:

Topics: Cloud, Hardware, Servers, Virtualization

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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  • RE: The cloud is forked

    Surely the recent SOPA, PIPA and now OPEN legislation, will be the death knell of the "everything in the "Cloud" model.

    If your competition wants to put you out of business, they'll just pay some drunk to complain and you can kiss your business goodbye.
  • Isn't it still the case that cloud must be reversible?

    Risk is right! Prudence or common sense would warn that providers can go bust or get hacked, and the owner of the data needs to be able to (a) Export the data (and probably code) from cloud back to in-house data centre; (b) Revert to running the applications in-house; and (c) Seek another cloud provider.
    • RE: The cloud is forked

      @peter_erskine@... Just wait til competing cloud sites go under and businesses have no local storage...

      This cloud concept is a huge mess and it will get worse...
  • What is your impetus

    for wanting all business's and organizations to give up all their infrastructure and move into a public cloud? Do you want everyone to put their eggs in one basket? Is someone lining your pockets? Don't get it.
  • It's a pleasing fantasy

    Thousands of programmers work independently and at the end everything is magically integrated together to produce systems that enterprises can use.<br><br>Unfortunately real in-depth integration has to take place at the design stage. <br><br>The real step forward will be rule based design methods and declarative programming languages based directly on logic that allow businesses to build systems that fit their business in reasonable time scales, at sensible cost and with high reliability. This is something that really has the potential to replace the straightjacket of off-the-shelf software. <br><br>The integrating thousands of independently written services after the event, though a romantic notion, is in fact a red herring the size of a white elephant.
    • Re: pleasing fantasy

      @jorwell I suspect your alternative is just as fantastical. The problem with your starting assertion is that there is no need to do in-depth integration if you build the connections in a loosely-coupled way.

      The reason businesses have never been able to build suitable systems "in reasonable time scales, at sensible cost and with high reliability" is this obsession computing people have with designing and building the perfect system as a single project. This is not how the natural world works and it's time for a new approach that, indeed, harnesses the best fit out of "thousands of independently written services after the event."
      • It's not about computing people

        @philwainewright <br><br>Good businesses have well designed processes. <br><br>You then add the right tools to build systems to support those processes effectively. <br><br>Perhaps you can give some concrete examples of how the approach you advocate might help with this?

        "it's time for a new approach" - but your approach is the one that already causes Java and C# programmers to spend most of their time understanding class behaviour rather than spending time solving real business problems.
  • Wrong framework

    You should write an article highlighting the use of COBOL in Client/Server environments. Or perhaps the benefits of embedded Windows .DLL's in Web applications. Or yes, the use of a big Oracle database in the cloud.

    Every time we have a large paradigm shift there is a temporary period where people drop in the tools that they're familiar with... but soon, they learn better. This time is no different; the cloud isn't forked.
  • RE: The cloud is forked

    Thank you for the insight. I am excited about Cloud ERP, yet I like to take a balanced approach to determine potential fit.