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The impact of cloud computing is most often analyzed through its expected disruption of IT vendors, or the media, or as an economic balm for developers and Web 2.0 start-ups.

Yet cloud computing is much more than a just newcomer on the Internet hype curve. The heritage of what cloud computing represents dates back to the dawn of information technology (IT), to the very beginnings of how government agencies and large commercial enterprises first accessed powerful computers to solve complex problems.

We’ve certainly heard a lot about the latest vision for cloud computing and what it can do for the delivery of applications, services and infrastructure, and for application development and deployment efficiencies. So how does cloud computing fit into the whole journey of the last 35 years of IT? What is the context of cloud computing in the real-world enterprise? How do we take the vision and apply it to today’s enterprise concerns and requirements?

To answer these questions, we need to look at the more mundane IT requirements of security, reliability, management, and the need for integration across multiple instances of cloud services. To help understand the difference between the reality and the vision for cloud computing, I recently interviewed Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst for general cloud computing topics and issues at Forrester Research.

Gardner: You know, Frank, the whole notion of cloud computing isn’t terribly new. I think it’s more of a progression.

Gillett: When I talk to folks in the industry, the old timers look at me and say, “Oh, time-sharing!” For some folks this idea, just like virtualization, harkens back to the dawn of the computer industry and things they’ve seen before. … We didn’t think of them as cloud, per se, because cloud was just this funny sketch on a white board that people used to say, “Well, things go into the network, magic happens, and something cool comes from somewhere.”

So broadly speaking, software as a service (SaaS) is a finished service that end users take in. Platform as a service (PaaS) is not for end users, but for developers. … Some developers want more control at a lower level, right? They do want to get into the operating system. They want to understand the relationship among the different operating systems instances and some of the storage architecture.

At that layer, you’re talking about infrastructure as a service (IaaS), where I’m dealing with virtual servers, virtualized storage, and virtual networks. I’m still sharing infrastructure, but at a lower level in the infrastructure. But, I’m still not nailed to this specific hardware the way you are in say a hosting or outsourcing setup.

Gardner: We’re in the opening innings of cloud computing?

Gillett: A lot of the noisy early adopters are start-ups that are very present on the Web, social media, blogs, and stuff like that. Interestingly, the bigger the company the more likely they are to be doing it, despite the hype that the small companies will go first.

… It doesn’t necessarily mean that your typical enterprise is doing it, and, if they are, it’s probably the developers, and it’s probably Web-oriented stuff. … In the infrastructure layer, it’s really workloads like test and development, special computation, and things like that, where people are experimenting with it. But, you have to look at your developers, because often it’s not the infrastructure guys who are doing this. It’s the developers.

It’s the people writing code that say, “It takes too long to get infrastructure guys to set up a server, configure the network, apportion the storage, and all that stuff. I’ll just go do it over here at the service provider.”

… There is no one thing called “cloud,” and therefore, there is no one owner in the enterprise. What we find is that, if you are talking about SaaS, business owners are the ones who are often specing this.

Gardner: Who is the “one throat to choke” if something goes wrong?

Gillett: Bottom line, there isn’t one, because there is no one thing. … They are on their own within the company. They have to manage the service providers, but there is this thing called the network that’s between them and the service providers.

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