I’m sure by now you’ve all at least skimmed the Berkeley paper that came out earlier last month, Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing. Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to that’s read it agrees it’s an excellent piece of work– but the marketing guys are a bit unnerved with some of the language in the paper. They’ve mobilized the mindshare troops and are trying to advance the discussion to include their perspectives. At issue is the following statement in the paper:
“When a Cloud is made available in a pay-as-you-go manner to the public, we call it a Public Cloud…We use the term Private Cloud to refer to internal datacenters of a business or other organization that are not made available to the public. …Cloud Computing is the sum of SaaS and Utility Computing, but does not normally include Private Clouds.”
Now you can bet that the likes of Cisco, EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Sun, VMware and just about everyone else who sells to the enterprise wants to make sure they’re not left off the cloud computing hype train– and who could blame them?
So let me frame the issue. In this corner…wearing the white satin trunks, not weighed down by any legacy infrastructure, the challenger, “Pure Play.” In the other corner, wearing the black leather trunks adorned with chains, belts and other heavy armor, the enterprise champions of the world, “The Transformers.”
Now the Pure Plays of course are of course represented by cool new companies such as Animoto, served by guys like Amazon with EC2 and S3, Salesforce with Force.com and Google with AppEngine. Their message is there’s a new, better way to do business that doesn’t constrain you with huge up front capital costs, complex provisioning and limited choice.
The Transformers represent traditional large organizations. They have billions in installed hardware, software and process assets that for some reason they don’t just want to toss. The vendors which serve them are gearing up for building ‘hybrid clouds’ and ‘federated models’ and are claiming their rightful place in the cloud spectrum. Their plan is to exploit virtualization, high speed networking, enterprise security technologies, Ajax and open source to preserve and enhance the value of existing investments and transform legacy processes and applications into agile, competitive weapons. They’ll also point out that they can service the cool, new upstarts too.
So should the industry definition accommodate the Transformers, meaning should private clouds be part of the definition? I say absolutely yes. Just as in the early days of the Internet we took pains to differentiate the public Internet from behind the firewall Intranets. In the end it really didn’t matter, both sides exploited HTML, TCP/IP, XML, and other Web technologies to service customers.
But there are some differences here.
We can all agree that cloud represents flexible computing services (i.e. ‘elastic’) with the appearance of unlimited capacity. The user can dial up or dial down capacity as needed and only pay for what is used. This all results in a dramatically simplified IT infrastructure where CAPEX are shifted to OPEX and IT capacity starts to look more like electricity– just plug it in and use it.
Can traditional IT organizations transform services delivery by implementing cloud technologies? Yes, but good examples are difficult to find and it’s pretty clear that the Transformers are followers, not leaders in this space. That doesn’t mean they can’t compete– they can and will, however there’s some work to be done for these organizations (users and sellers alike) to be perceived as leaders.
Four key areas will serve as barometers in my view as to how the Transformers are keeping pace with the Pure Plays:
- The degree to which private clouds evolve and integrate with public infrastructure;
- The functional competitiveness of private cloud services in areas like provisioning, billing, scaling and choice;
- The economics of private clouds and their ability to compete with megacenters being put in place by Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others.
- The ability of the Transformers to facilitate the adoption of new applications for the cloud.
As an example, will IT organizations provide the billing and charge mechanisms in the same manner as Amazon provides a utility bill? Can they competitively price such services? Will legacy ecosystem evolve at rates necessary to keep pace with the Pure Plays?
Good questions. To answer them, I say let the Transformers in the game and allow them to compete.