Cloud Computing: Hummer or Prius?

July 29, 2008 Appirio

Ryan Nichols

Last week we noticed a similarity in news headlines from two very different industries – automobiles and software.

In the auto industry, U.S. gas prices remain near all-time highs, and car buyers are nervous about economic conditions. The result is a dramatic shift among buyers to emerging technologies. The market for large SUVs is hurting, while the market for smaller, lighter cars and especially electric hybrids is booming. Domestic automakers are scrambling to retool their existing SUV factories to smaller vehicles, and Toyota is poised to overtake GM as the leading global car maker.

In the technology industry, we face a similar situation. CIOs are certainly nervous about economic times. And the costs of operating traditional, on-premise enterprise software is rising. Buyers are reeling from the recent Oracle and SAP price increases (does this move remind anyone else of OPEC?).

So why is Goldman Sachs telling us that CIOs plan almost no investment in cloud computing in 2009? Isn’t this the equivalent of reacting to a gas price increase by postponing your purchase of a Prius, and driving your Hummer for awhile longer?

Goldman based its findings on a set of survey results which the blogosphere has dissected over the past few days. The common theme is that CIOs don’t get it. Billy Marshall of rPath argues on Sandhill.com that CIOs are often the last to know about investments in new technologies. James Staten at Forrester has a similar take, saying CIOs aren’t the target for cloud computing anyway. Todd Ogasawara at O’Reilly claims CIOs simply don’t understand the value proposition of cloud computing.

While the shortsightedness of some CIOs is a contributing factor, we think that the thought leaders in cloud computing shoulder some of the blame. We all get so excited about the potential of cloud computing that it sometimes sounds futuristic, as if it were like some spaceship that will provide commuter service to the moon, instead of like a reliable Prius, perfect for your daily commute. The name “cloud computing” itself, with its fanciful tones, contributes to this “unreal” perception.

The reality is simple. “Cloud computing” is just a big name for business solutions and IT services that are delivered over the Internet, providing more flexibility and scalability at a dramatically lower cost. This is a proven technology with a clear ROI, especially when deployed with a pragmatic eye towards business impact. In the last 15 years consumer technologies have experienced unparalleled advancements all at a diminishing costs. In the same period, enterprise software (e.g. SAP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft) have failed to deliver innovation and relied on their own lack of flexibility – i.e. high switching costs – to actually increase the cost for ever diminishing returns.

Appirio’s customers include CIOs who understand that uncertain economic conditions, and on-premise software price increases, make 2009 a year to increase investment in cloud computing. We hope and predict that many more will follow suit.

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