Cloudiness and reality

Gibbs ponders how public 'cloud' stuff is being pushed as the ultimate IT solution. He begs to disagree …

One of the biggest industry "buzzes" in the IT world is cloud computing. It's an exciting rethink of how we do IT, but we have to be careful as the term "cloud" covers a wide territory.

INDEPTH: Enterprise cloud services

According to the Information Technology Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology: "Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g. networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

In other words, any shared IT resource can be a "cloud" or part of a cloud, and a key issue of "cloudiness" is that the service should have a low overhead for management and provisioning. Sure sounds good, doesn't it?

There are two types of cloud: private clouds, that are essentially a redesign and reorganization of your existing infrastructure; and public clouds where, depending on who you listen to, you'll migrate a lot, or maybe most of or even all of, your IT infrastructure and resources out-of-house.

Allow me to digress for a moment and note that we talk of "in-house" but not "out-house." What we say instead is "outsourcing" (and we eschew, I suspect for aesthetic reasons, "insourcing"). But "outhouse" and its adjectives, "outhousing" and "outhoused," are much more amusing than any of the alternatives. Henceforth in this column, we shall go for the more risible choice.

So, where was I? Oh yes, the concept that a significant proportion of a corporation's IT resources could be outhoused to public clouds. Why is this so desirable? Because private clouds actually cost serious money to implement. Public clouds, it is argued, do away with a lot of IT overheads associated with in-house infrastructure.

"Aha!" says the CEO and or the CFO, "Wonderful! 'Meh' to private clouds! Public clouds are the way of the future! We'll only need a handful of managers in-house who will run all of these cloud-based apps and our manpower costs will plummet, our Capex will be reduced, and our scalability -- and our profitability -- will be assured! Huzzah for progress!" (I'm not sure that your high-ups ever say "huzzah!" but work with me, people ...).

This may be a nice dream for the chaps on the top floor and in the corner offices, but we know differently, don't we? These CxO types are just like your relatives, you know, the ones you bump into at the supermarket, who say, "Oh, by the way, my computer's not working." You (foolishly) automatically respond with, "How is it not working?" To which they reply "Oh, I don't know, it said something on the screen about (insert nonsense here) but I wasn't paying attention. I'll bring it 'round tomorrow, I know it won't take you a moment to fix it." But, again, I digress.

In reality, your senior management has no more idea what it takes to make IT work than a light bulb knows the history of Alexander Graham Bell.

The truth is that, even when you outhouse to a public cloud, you still need people who really understand how these services work. These services need to be monitored, the service's security checked and rechecked, application and data integrity tested, backups done and verified, linkages to other services (possibly in other clouds) established and maintained, errors and problems investigated and handled, and usage and billing checked.

So, can much of your IT "stuff" really be outhoused into a public cloud? The real answer is no, and will remain that way for a considerable time to come despite all of the people who currently, and vociferously, argue quite the opposite.

Sounds like a weather forecast: publicly cloudy with little chance of reality.

Gibbs predicts in Ventura, Calif. Your outlook to backspin@gibbs.com.

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