Part I – Beware the Wolf in Blue Clothing

June 22, 2009 Appirio

Narinder Singh

Its not unexpected, a look back only a few years tells a similar story. When left trailing in disruptive innovation, large legacy vendors muddy the market while trying to play catch up. IBM’s push of the private cloud concept is analogous to their and other providers ‘leadership’ in ‘helping’ develop web services standards, In reality they created substantial complexity until they could catch up. This led to a bottoms up revolution that brought about alternatives like REST. We are now seeing a dangerous repeat of this pattern, with an even bigger set of stakes – the rate of the cloud computing revolution.

Before examining how forces like how and why its dangerous for the market, we want to lay out our core beliefs on how enterprise CIOs can actually pragmatically view hybrid cloud models (view a great intro video on what cloud computing is).

Private Cloud, Private Internet?

Private Clouds make as much sense a having a private Internet. Leveraging concepts, standards and technologies from the Internet makes complete sense for enterprises large and small. However that is not equivalent to creating a private Internet; nor could it be a substitute for the real Internet. Similarly, technologies like virtualization, elastic infrastructure, interoperability between internal systems and public clouds all make sense. Yet, these are not the same as being a cloud provider or a substitute for public clouds.
This is not simply a matter of semantics. Companies that pursue primary strategies of attempting to replicate the approach of public clouds for purpose of bypassing them may gain some cost advantages and perhaps even some business benefits (quicker scaling) but it’s an incremental change. Moving to public infrastructure/platforms is transformational from a cost and activity/focus perspective – especially at higher levels of the cloud stack. Improving the performance of your fleet of horses is no substitute for exploring the benefits of a car.

We strongly encourage companies to pursue improvements to their own IT capabilities through concepts and technologies from cloud computing – but without looking at it as a long term substitute for what real clouds can deliver. It will always be important to make sure public clouds work seamlessly with existing IT infrastructure and applications. The danger lies in falling prey to focusing on private clouds and letting IT teams and organizations preserve the status quo (for the most part) while telling leadership that they’re doing something about cloud.

Private Clouds, Public Clouds – Is there anything in between?

At the same time, not all clouds will be “open to the public”. We do expect very large, unique special cases to exist. At the MIT CIO forum we heard how DISA was providing certain cloud services only to government agencies. Hearing them describe the processes, policies, technologies, independence, and challenges – it was clear they were a cloud provider.

Over time, we could see very large groups or collectives pushing the creation of cloud providers that serve more specific segments (pricing models alone could be one such segmentation). However, a successful cloud provider must have a large, diverse base of customers, massive scale, and a unique angle. We expect this scale and expertise to be beyond all but the very largest organizations, only be focused on narrow threads of what is available in public clouds, and require technology expertise that rivals the best commercial technology providers.

Even where this edge case nuance applies, the reality is that the fastest route to benefit, that also aligns with the long term industry direction, will be to take advantage of what true cloud platforms like Amazon, and Google provide today – after years of refinement. Enterprise architects will quickly see that clouds will operate at different levels (infrastructure, platform and applications), should be analyzed accordingly, and have a substantial set of benefits it would be costly and less effective to try to replicate with private clouds.

In Part II we will discuss how large entrenched vendors like IBM and SAP go about creating confusion in the market and how enterprise CIOs should react.

PS – At Appirio we are genuinely excited about the innovation occurring in our industry and believe that vigorous, candid debate (vs. massive promotion) helps accelerate information dissemination and results in technology professionals making better decisions. To that end, I’d like to issue an open invitation to relevant executives from IBM to participate in an unscripted public webinar to directly share their perspective and debate its merits with us. We look forward to hearing from you !

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