Technology loves a good fad. Agile development, Web 2.0, patterns, Web services, XML, SOA, and now the cloud—I’ve lived through so many of these I’m beginning to lose track. And truth be told, I’ve jumped on my fair share of bandwagons. But one thing I have learned is that the successful technologies move at their own incremental pace, independent of the hype cycle around them. Two well known commentators, Eric Knorr from Infoworld, and David Linthicum, from Blue Mountain Labs, both made posts this week suggesting that this may be the case for cloud computing.
Eric Knorr, in his piece Cloud computing gets a (little) more real, writes:
The business driver for the private cloud is clear: Management wants to press a button and get what it needs, so that IT becomes a kind of service vend-o-matic. The transformation required to deliver on that promise seems absolutely immense to me. While commercial cloud service providers have the luxury of a single service focus, a full private cloud has an entire catalogue to account for — with all the collaboration and governance issues that stopped SOA (service-oriented architecture) in its tracks.
I agree with Eric’s comment about SOA, as long as you interpret this as “big SOA”. The big bang, starting-Monday-everything-is-SOA approach certainly did fail—and in hindsight, this shouldn’t be surprising. SOA, like cloud computing, cuts hard across fiefdoms and challenges existing order. If you move too fast, if your approach is too draconian, of course you will fail. In contrast, if you manage SOA incrementally, continuously building trust and earning mindshare, then SOA will indeed work.
Successful cloud computing will follow the incremental pattern. It just isn’t reasonable to believe that if you build a cloud, they will come—and all at once, as Eric contends. We have not designed our mission critical applications for cloud deployment. Moreover, our people and our processes may not be ready for cloud deployment. Like the applications, these too can change; but this is a journey, not a destination.
Private clouds represent an opportunity for orderly transition. Some would argue that private clouds are not really clouds at all, but I think this overstates public accessibility at the expense of the technical and operational innovations that better characterize the cloud. Private clouds are important and necessary because they offer an immediate solution to basic governance concerns and offer a trustworthy transition environment for people, process and applications.
David Linthicum seems to agree. In his posting What’s the Deal With Private Clouds? Dave writes:
In many instances, organizations leverage private clouds because the CIO wants the architectural benefits of public cloud computing, such as cost efficiencies through virtualization, but is not ready to give up control of data and processes just yet.
Dave sees private clouds as a logical transition step, one that supports an incremental approach to cloud computing. It’s not as radical as jumping right into the public cloud, but for that reason it’s a much easier sell to the business. It pulls staff in, rather than driving them out, and in the modern enterprise this is a much better recipe for success. He continues:
I think that many enterprises will stand up private clouds today, and then at some point learn to leverage public clouds, likely through dynamic use of public cloud resources to support bursts in processing on the private cloud. Many are calling this “cloud bursting,” but it’s a great way to leverage the elastic nature of public cloud computing without giving up complete control.
Dave’s hypothesis struck a chord with me. Only last week I had a discussion with a group of architects from a large investment bank, and this describes their strategy precisely. The bank has an internal, private cloud today; but they anticipate moving select applications into public clouds, leveraging the knowledge and experience they gained from their private cloud. These architects recognize that cloud isn’t just about the technology or a change in data center economics, but represents a fundamental shift in how IT is delivered that must be managed very carefully.
This revolution just doesn’t make good TV. The hype will certainly be there, but the actual reality will be a slow, measured, but nonetheless inevitable transition.
PS: The title, of course, is from the great Gil Scott-Heron