Paving the cowpaths to the denial cloud

Enterprises are being sold over-specified, inefficient private cloud infrastructure that will end up as shelfware, a conference heard last week.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

There was some sound sense — some controversy, too — heard from the stage at last week's annual All About The Cloud conference in San Francisco. I'll start with Michael Lock, VP Americas at Google Enterprise, whose cloud apps business he hinted is second only in size to Salesforce.com: "We don't publish figures on this, but Google Enterprise is the second largest cloud-based B2B SaaS company in the world."

He advised attendees at the event — mostly ISVs — to focus not on cloud but on what it enables: "Cloud is so last year," he asserted. "The cloud is actually now the infrastructure and it is being supercharged by a whole set of technologies to make the cloud better." Focus instead on developing apps with new features and functions that takes advantage of mobile, social and local, he said. "If all you're doing is transporting the old features to the cloud, you're missing the point ... Think about these new trends that are supercharging the cloud. Do not pave the old cowpaths."

Unfortunately, paving the old cowpaths is exactly what many enterprises appear to be doing when they attempt to implement cloud infrastructure. Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource, has been getting in trouble with his company's new owners, Dimension Data, for repeatedly saying that he doesn't like private clouds. He did it again in his keynote speech last week, much to the dismay of colleagues out in the field selling private clouds to Dimension Data's customers. But as Ryan went on to explain in his talk, it's only certain types of private cloud he dislikes. Specifically, those that waste money because, in a nutshell, they follow the old cowpaths.

"There's stuff being sold to enterprises for private cloud that service providers that have to run at a profit would never buy," Ryan told the AATC audience last week. Out in the enterprise market, he explained, the big systems vendors and their global SI partners are specifying private clouds with sophisticated hardware platforms and complex management software that is designed for conventional enterprise computing environments. It's complete overkill for a typical cloud infrastructure. As a result, he has heard of organisations spending large sums of money to implement private cloud instances that never get used when the operating costs become fully apparent. "For the first time, I'm seeing hardware turn into shelfware," he concluded. "A large percentage of private cloud is designed to get more hardware and more software and shove it onto the customer's shelf."

I delivered my own take on private cloud in an analyst panel later the same day, succinctly summed up in this attendee's tweet: "There are no private clouds, only badly run public clouds. Aka denial clouds." Anyone that believes they can avoid the perils of the Internet today by building their own private cloud is living in cloud cuckoo land. Every enterprise IT infrastructure already touches the cloud at many points, I explained, whether it's linking to mobile devices out in the field, supporting remote locations or simply operating websites and ecommerce. It's pure denial to pretend against all the evidence that conventional approaches remain superior when almost every day there's news of yet another enterprise failing to protect its infrastructure and data because it didn't have its cloud act in order.

Instead of continuing to pave the old cowpaths and hoping the Internet will go away, enterprises should be building infrastructure that learns from the best practice established by today's leading public cloud operators — and if they can't they should run their IT directly on public cloud platforms. The back end will still be private to their administrators, but if it is built to rigorous public cloud standards, it will meet all the economic, performance and compliance requirements they need while delivering all of those crucial emerging capabilities Lock discussed in his presentation. That of course is what Ryan means when he doesn't like private clouds, and it bears out a sentiment originally tweeted more than a year ago by Adrian Cockcroft, cloud architect at Netflix: "There is no technical reason for private cloud to exist, it's all $, FUD and internal politics."

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