Cloud naivety and electric car dreams

Harnessing the power of cloud computing requires that you understand underlying concepts: loose understanding can cause more harm than good
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor


One of the huge challenges in this era is people's sometimes dangerous lack of understanding of underlying infrastructure and how things work.

Given anxieties about ecology, most people are understandably enthusiastic about electric cars. Some people have a very unrealistic view of where and how the power for these vehicles is going to be generated, and in much the same way there seems to be a widespread lack of understanding about where cloud computing 'comes from'.

I've spent more hours than I care to recall debating security versus flow of information with IT professionals inside large companies, and as an employee had to wait 9 months before an unfriendly IT department would purchase 22 servers to replace the on-premise, mission critical, maxed out old system we were using. Despite organizing budgeting approvals from on high, the IT guys wanted guarantees of complete control of access to the boxes and there was a protracted trial of strength before we finally got our servers and software installed. I've been there, done that, got the T shirt when it comes to balancing responsibilities between IT and the needs of Line of Business. 

Since then I've been in situations as a consultant when people with short term goals (and probably job tenure before they move on) have tried to overpower IT with some pretty sketchy cloud data storage and location solutions, which is going to the other extreme. Today we're in an era that is awash with cloud based enterprise social tools whose attributes are rapidly being absorbed into mainstream enterprise technologies. The reality that they are not proving to be a significant revenue center in quarterly profits reports to Wall Street has meant a race to give them away free as features of a larger picture, both to try and squeeze the smaller point solutions out of the market and to update often clunky old enterprise user experiences with a freshened up user interface that has social attributes. The old enterprise meets the Web 2.0 freemium 'try me and buy my upgrades' model, now aligned with our mobile app store focused world….
Most people loosely understand that cloud computing still runs on servers located somewhere on the planet through the internet, and that clever things are done to turn them into multi tenant 'office blocks' that can store multiple companies information on the same computer without anyone getting access to other people's stuff. 
Somehow the old computer world is perceived as being like those crazy old ads for clunky four thousand dollar 10 megabyte hard drives, and we're all much cleverer now that everything is free. Like the electric car argument, you just plug into the utility source and hey presto, instant power/computing. 

In the parallel universe of transportation, the current reality is that assuming we get to a point where battery technology is viable to run an electric engined vehicle for any length of time, most countries don't have the power infrastructure that would support the power required. Four years ago I wrote a piece here after seeing Al Gore talking up the ideas of creating a 'Unified National Smart Grid' at the Web 2.0 Summit. Four years later that is in my opinion still an excellent  idea, but nothing much has happened, except that in the USA General Motors loses fifty grand on every Chevy Volt they sell and the $7.5 bn in tax credit subsidies for electric vehicles has had little impact on gasoline use models

I'm as keen as anyone to find more fuel efficient ways to get around the planet, but debating cars powered by coal extracted and burnt in someone else's back yard (or a nuclear power station) isn't a good way to spend your time, and similar types of argument are all too prevalent inside companies today around cloud computing.

If I move all my junk from one building to another it will be the same junk - there's no magic wand that reorganizes it in the new building. The problems of how to protect and organize a company's crown jewels - it's data and secrets - don't go away because you moved everything to someone else's cloud, but it's amazing how many people think it does. Talk and superficial understanding is cheap: understanding exactly how and why something works - or more critically doesn't - remains essential to continued success.

Just as explicitly organizing ways people work is infinitely more important than provisioning them with new tools and hoping they 'adopt' 'social' ways of working, both cloud and big data are rife with similar wooly vagueness fueled by vendor marketing hyperbole. (Some of the vendors appear to actually believe their own messaging - or at least spout what they are told to say if they want to keep their job…)

We all want more flexibility in the ways we work and improvements in our ability to connect with others and find information - my stock in trade - but it's very short sighted and potentially problematic to think you can quickly achieve these goals by superficial means. This may seem obvious but it's an increasingly common problem...



video: radio controlled electric flying car, great for flying around in the clouds!

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