Beware the allure of Fool's Cloud

Private cloud, like fool's gold, isn't the real thing. It omits some of the most crucial elements of cloud computing and will disappoint and deceive most enteprises that fall for its allure.

Even more insidious than the perils of Amateur Cloud (which I covered in my last post) is the allure of a phenomenon I'm calling Fool's Cloud. The more familiar name by which this is known to many enterprises and IT vendors is 'private cloud.' It's what happens when people look at the phenomenon of cloud computing, latch on to a few of its features, and implement something within their IT infrastructure that appears identical in their eyes, even though it omits some of the most crucial elements of cloud computing.

I'm not saying that privately-hosted cloud computing look-alikes aren't useful. All I'm saying is, don't fool yourself that they'll deliver all the benefits of cloud computing.

What's really insidious is the way that Fool's Cloud deteriorates so rapidly in comparison to true cloud computing. It starts off all shiny and new, sparkling with state-of-the-art capabilities and value. But because it's cut off from the cloud that it attempts to emulate, it quickly falls behind, tarnishing the competitiveness of your IT infrastructure and becoming as resistant to decommissioning as a lump of radioactive waste.

These captive, private clouds fall into obsolescence because they're not exposed to the continuous, collective scrutiny and collaborative innovation of the public cloud.

A public cloud platform is under constant competitive pressure to renew and refresh itself, whether by adding new capabilities or reacting to new threats. With a broad cross-section of organizations sharing use of the infrastructure, the platform has to continuously evolve to meet the varying demands of all those customers — demands that keep it both at the leading edge of innovation and at the highest level of threat preparedness.

Whereas at a privately-hosted platform serving just a single enterprise customer, all but the most pressing of those renewals and refreshes just get added to the wishlist — things to be done when time or budgets permit. Of course, in theory, it doesn't have to be like that, but who's going to argue for implementing features if there's no demonstrable business case for deploying them right now? Public clouds spread the shared cost of innovation across all their customers, but a privately hosted platform bears all that cost on the shoulders of a single enterprise.

Although I said earlier that privately-hosted implementations have their uses, they should only ever be considered as a transitional platform and enterprises should make sure they fully understand what they're missing out on when they opt for private hosting as opposed to public cloud alternatives. John Treadway at CloudBzz yesterday published a very helpful blog post about private cloud and the benefits it can deliver if implemented effectively. Done well, it really does produce a huge step forward in enterprise IT modernization, automating many of the provisioning and management processes and eliminating a lot of duplication and wasted resource in the IT infrastructure. But he also points out a salient proviso: "this is bloody difficult to pull off."

I wonder how many organizations really can justify the investment required to achieve a fully automated internal cloud infrastructure as a throwaway resource? — one that's sure to rapidly lose effectiveness in comparison to public cloud alternatives, simply because it's not exposed to the same competitive pressures and economic leverage for innovation.

Unfortunately, many enterprises will ignore these factors and allow themselves to be seduced by the allure of Fool's Cloud. It can only lead to disillusion and disappointment — which they'll blame on cloud computing instead of their own failure to fully grasp it.

[Disclosure: I'd like to acknowledge funding by vendors of recent work that helped to develop the above concepts, in particular a white paper for OpSource, Enterprise Meet Cloud. Companies contract my services not to influence my opinion but because they know I'm already on their wavelength. Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my incipient bias in favor of cloud services.]