Why the cloud will (entirely) replace in-house applications

Cloud computing is the latest IT "fad" that isn't a fad. How many times do we have to do this before we get it right?
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

This article is a direct reaction to my colleague Steve Ranger's "Why the cloud will never (entirely) replace in-house applications" article that he posted yesterday. I'm not blaming Steve for his viewpoint, because he shares it with a lot of people.

I can't tell you how many times I hear that "cloud computing is a fad" or "the cloud is inherently not secure", or best of all, "the Cloud is not a sustainable business model". To all of those, I simply say, "Nonsense". I'd like to say something related to bovine excrement, but I'll resist. Cloud computing is not a fad. It is not inherently a security risk. And it certainly is a sustainable business model. Cloud computing is the latest IT "fad" to become the target of the short-sighted commentary and naysaying that I've observed for the past three decades.

If you look at what's happened over those past three decades in IT, you see that I'm spot on with that statement.

Don't believe me?

How about the personal computer, as my first example. That's about 30 or so years old. How did that "fad" turn out? I can remember analysts and newscasters saying that the personal computer fad is a fleeting fancy, an expensive hobby, or a rich man's toy.

I'll name the fads that I can recall for you, but I'll spare you the details of each along the way (and they are not necessarily in chronological order):

  • Personal computers

  • Mobile phones

  • Windows

  • Apple stuff

  • Linux

  • Virtualization

  • Laptops

  • Tablets

  • Blade servers

  • Telecommuting

  • Cloud Computing

Now look back, if you will, and cite examples of those fads that burned out like an old man's pipe. You can't name one, can you? Nope, you can't.

That's because they aren't fads at all. They're real. They fill a need. They're part of our technological evolution.

Cloud computing is no different from the rest of that list.

It fills a need — a need for low-cost, agile, OPEX-charged computing that's available 24x7 anywhere in the world. For some strange reason, analysts and observers see cloud computing as some sort of "tech devil", or some hellspawn that is very different from what has existed for many years under other names.

I find it both disturbing and humorous to imagine these people penning their negative reactions to cloud computing, when most of them haven't a clue what it even is that they're talking about. It's kind of like people who toss around the term "trans fat". They have no idea what trans fat is. They have heard the term and they know it's bad.

Well, in case you're wondering, I know what trans fat is. I know what cis fat is, as well. I can draw them for you. And I can tell you that cloud computing is here to stay, and that all services, even your operating systems, will exist only in the horrible, terrible, unsecure, devil-spawn fad that we now call the Cloud.

It makes me wonder how progress in this world was ever made with so many people standing about saying, "Nope, that'll never work", or "Don't waste your time with that nonsense". It makes me realize that without those hard-headed, negativity-deaf, determined innovators, there are many things that we wouldn't have today. Here's a partial list of those things:

  • Radio

  • Airplanes

  • Cars

  • Trains

  • Telephones

  • An accurate view of the solar system

  • Television

  • Personal computers

  • Cloud computing

Now to some of Mr.Ranger's points from his article:

At the moment cloud still accounts for a relatively small slice of enterprise IT spending — perhaps no more than five or six percent of the total software market, although one prediction sees this climb to 20 percent by the end of the decade.

Yes, it might currently account for a small percentage, but by the end of the decade, it will comprise 90 percent plus. You have to understand that technology adoption isn't linear. When the first personal computers hit the market, uptake was slow, but quickly and exponentially grew to millions of converts. Same for cell phones, TVs, cars, and just about anything else technology-related that you can think of.

That's partly because companies remain cautious about the new technology, but also because they have significant investments in their existing on-premise IT infrastructure, both hardware and software.

True, but how long does it take for on-premise hardware to become obsolete? Three years? Five years? By the end of the decade, none of the hardware in datacenters right now will still be running in datacenters. That's plenty of time for conversion, and it will happen. By 2020, only a small percentage of hardware (<20) will be left on premise as privately-owned. The cloud will be the next utility, the next commodity, if you will, and we'll purchase it much the same as we do electricity, water, or gasoline — in bulk, and as needed.

Indeed, the rapid growth of cloud (and Software as a Service in particular) has made some question whether on-premise applications have a long-term future at all, or whether all applications will eventually be cloud-powered.

See? Steve realizes the folly of thinking that the cloud is a passing fancy or a fad. He is correct that all applications will be cloud-powered.

But it's also possible that on-premise applications still have some use — and some fight — left in them, at least as far as CIOs are concerned.

They do, but very little, and it's running out fast. CIOs will convert to cloud or be cloud-convinced when the winds of change blow their minds that direction. Everyone will soon have a "cloud initiative", or whatever buzz-term someone invents for it. The bottom line is that if you aren't already researching or planning your "cloud initiative", you're behind the curve.

John Gracyalny, VP IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "I don't consider the internet stable enough for truly critical functions. I'm also reluctant to trust a third-party datacenter's security."

I don't know John, but it sounds like he needs to get on his horse and mosey on over to the General Store and answer the clue telegraph. You trust third parties to prepare your food, to service your car, and to handle your mail, so what is it that makes third-party trust so difficult in IT operations? I can remember when every company wanted to run its own mail server and web server in house. Why? Why do you need to do that? Are you an email provider or a web hosting company? If not, why not allow someone else, who knows what they're doing, do it instead?

I don't build my own cars, washing machines, or vacuum cleaners. I don't even build my own computers anymore. If you need to feel ownership and control of something, plant a tree.

Some CIOs realize that moving to cloud-based services is part of the technology evolution inevitable. Those are the CIOs to keep. The other ones, unfortunately, not so much. If your CIO isn't looking to take your company to the future in technology, what good is he or she? Perhaps there are some openings for CAOs* somewhere.

Cloud computing is a fact. Cloud computing is a good thing. It is the future of IT for business and for personal computing. Choose a direction now, and head toward it for the future, because whether or not you like it, the cloud will (entirely) replace in-house applications. And it will happen sooner, rather than later.

*Chief Anachronism Officers: In charge of keeping things the way they were yesterday.

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