What If We'd Never Heard Of Cloud Computing? - InformationWeek

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Cloud // Software as a Service
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Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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What If We'd Never Heard Of Cloud Computing?

Which of the cloud's many incarnations -- software as a service, platform as a service, and others -- should we care about?

Marketers never cease to amaze me. They'll get you interested in buying a Volkswagen because they showed you a kid in a Darth Vader suit having a happy moment because the car has remote ignition. Never mind that Cadillac and others have had the feature for years -- it's a good ad, so VW gets some love. Thankfully, there's no Super Bowl for IT advertising, GoDaddy notwithstanding. But if there were, you can bet the vast majority of ads would somehow hint at the cloud-ification of everything.

Here's a thought: What if we'd never invented the term? Which of the many and various incarnations of cloud would we care about then? This idea occurred to me while hearing about new facilities under construction by Vantage Data Centers. The company offers hosting, and gives only a passing mention to cloud in its presentation, saying it'll be a $68 billion market in a few years -- at least according to Gartner. Though I suspect Gartner's definition is ridiculously broad, Vantage makes no claim to be a cloud provider. More on Vantage in a bit, but first, here's how I see a cloudless world for established companies (not startups), with a little help from InformationWeek Analytics data.

The easiest case to make is for SaaS, particularly as it relates to nonstrategic applications. Someone in your organization needs an app. You find that you can get from an outside source, and after vetting security and your ability to integrate it into existing software and processes (you do this, right?), you contract for the service and end up with happy IT customers. You get to say "yes" with a minimum of distraction, so even if the long-term TCO is slightly higher for the SaaS thing, it's still a win.

Platform as a service is a little tougher sell in my mind. Except as it relates to rapid prototyping and development of new applications, I don't see the use for many businesses. For startups, it's a different situation; building in PaaS can give newbies a level of reliability, availability, and performance that would otherwise bust their budgets. You've all heard the analogy -- if you’re a 20-something and want a pool and gym, you live in an apartment complex that has them. Shared access is a good thing. If you're a 40-something, you put a pool in your backyard and have a few cocktails, causing the desire for a gym to pass pretty quickly. We see this in our Outlook 2011 data, where, when we asked about which tactics and strategies affected IT's ability to deliver on projects, 58% said that cloud computing for app dev wasn't applicable. They aren't so interested in sharing, you see. That was the highest "nonapplicable" rating of all the selections we offered.

The possibilities are more interesting when looking at infrastructure. There's a better history of outsourcing at both the facilities and managed services levels, and there's some history for selling cycles and storage. The latter had been a pricey affair until the likes of Amazon realized there were cycles to burn and subsequently priced them to sell. The uses I see for Amazon's service are (potentially) for on-demand overflow capacity and for use as a development environment. I think it's a fairly rare organization that both has those sorts of overflow needs and would also be willing to trust a best-effort service like Amazon's to meet that need. Of course they do exist, but they're the exception rather than rule.

When IT organizations run the numbers of buying cycles and storage, they generally realize that if you're comparing apples to apples over a reasonable number of years, getting the availability and performance you want will be as or more expensive than buying and running your own infrastructure. And since most envision a hybrid model anyway, the value proposition becomes even tougher. After all, you've invested in the expertise to run all this stuff, and it's likely that the people involved represent the highest cost in the equation -- not the servers and storage gear. And finally, management software is still not even close to being up to the task of overseeing a mix of internal and off-site services.

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