What’s driving your organizational interest in cloud? Is it apathy or is it architecture?

The whole debate surrounding the existence, or non-existence as it were, of “private” clouds seems to revolve around the definition of cloud. Yes, we’re right back at the beginning, Vizzini. The problem is that lots of folks want to focus in on the “apathy” inherent in cloud rather than the “architecture”.

Yes, apathy. After all, that’s what we’re saying when we include as a key component of the definition of cloud “you don’t have to care about the infrastructure.” For example, Andrew Conry-Murray of InformationWeek steps up and declares that There’s No Such Thing As A Private Cloud:

In my mind, a key component of the definition of a cloud is that you, the enterprise, don't have to host and run the infrastructure. All that stuff is supposed to be out of your hands.

My response is quite simple: if a key component of cloud was the apathy inherent in outsourcing the physical hosting and management of infrastructure then managed services and hosting providers would have long ago been more successful in their endeavors.

Hosting services, which offload the costs and effort associated with running and managing a data center, have long been available and long been used primarily by small to medium businesses, not large organizations with complex inter-relationships between departments, business units, acquired companies, and applications themselves. Hosting services have always been an option, just not one that has garnered nearly the attention of cloud. In fact, the reduction in IT staff/costs often associated with such outsourcing efforts is not the primary reason enterprises are interested in the cloud, according to IDC research on the subject.

The other key component of cloud must necessarily be an on-demand architecture that provides for the simplification and greater efficiency of the overall infrastructure. That’s really what is appealing to most folks: the ability to deploy applications in an on-demand environment, in the most efficient way possible. That means taking advantage of idle resources in such a way as to reduce the overall operating expenses associated with the data center – power, heating, cooling, space, hardware, software, management, etc…  It’s about the reduction in costs that come from an efficient architecture, not simply from being outsourced.

It’s about the architecture; about the advantages that a cloud architecture offers organizations. Because in the end someone within the organization still has to monitor and manage that architecture, whether it’s in the cloud or in the next room. Someone has to deploy applications into the cloud, someone has to monitor them, manage them, and sit idly on the phone with the provider’s technical support line when something goes wrong.

A cloud definition based even partially on apathy does a great disservice to cloud providers and the efforts that have gone into the architecture necessary to support such a versatile, efficient, on-demand environment. It reduces the value of cloud to that of a hosted, managed service and ignores the very real technical and business benefits for which organizations are hungering right now. It ignores the way in which cloud purports to provide benefits such as rapid deployment, on-demand scalability, and a cost and resource-efficient infrastructure.

The question researchers seem to never ask is this: if your internal architecture were as efficient and cost-effective as you believe the cloud is, would you still want to use the cloud?

I’m betting that for a large majority of organizations the answer would be “no”, because it really is about architecture, and not apathy.

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