What is the Cloud?

Listen, I don’t want to start another discussion about the cloud. What is a cloud anyway? However I’ve recently been in two different conversations where someone indicated that they thought everything in corporate IT was the cloud.

It occurs to me that from the point of view of of an organizations staff, where they access all IT services via a browser or a smart device of some kind, that it sure looks like everything is the cloud. Everything is just out there and they aren’t having to install fat clients on their desktops to get things done anymore. It is no unreasonable to start thinking of all the things that IT does as ‘the cloud’ when you have that perspective.

Here are some thoughts on this:

  1. Any conversation that an IT professional has with someone related to the cloud better start with definitions and a common understanding, or starting point. I’ve been in several cloud conversations lately where I’ve realized later that we were talking about different things. I’ve got to get better about starting with a common foundation on these conversations.
  2. I think the cloud is IT related services provisioned via the internet with a pay as you go model. No capital expenses up front and can scale up or scale down based on changing needs by the buyer.
  3. Corporate IT has many legacy applications running on dedicated hardware in private data centers or hosting sites. It looks like the cloud, but it is not the cloud. There are capital costs, upgrades strains and little reuse. Little scaling too.
  4. The cloud is not hosting. It is not contracting with some company where they will just run an application on hardware in their data center and your employees will get access to it over the internet. That is not the cloud. That is just putting the hardware in their data center. Doesn’t matter if it is a pay as you go model or not. This is not the cloud.
  5. I think real cloud applications are multitenant. To really get economies of scale the hardware needs to be shared by many users at the same time. Google apps are an example where all the people running Gmail or google apps are running on shared hardware in Google data centers. This last point everyone won’t agree on, but I think real, scale-able cloud based applications have to be multitenant.

Well, am I getting this wrong? Do you agree with these viewpoints? Or is corporate IT the cloud too?

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6 thoughts on “What is the Cloud?”

  1. The Cloud is really a mechanism to deliver an IT service. This is an agreement to what you stated specially for thought #2. If we are going to go in the direction of becoming a service provider, yes the multi-tenant model will be applicable. This model is not new. Looking at the payment card business, these guys have been into the multi-tenant business since the 90s processing transactions for multiple institutions with different business rules and products for each institution.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I think multi-tenancy is the key differentiator between the traditional application hosting provider and a cloud service provider. In a true Cloud environment, there is no physical separation of the digital assets of one customer from another customer. There is only logical separation of digital assets, and that too a individual user level and not at the organization level.

    Saqib

  3. I spent last week at the AWS conference which was fantastic. I came away with a completely different viewpoint not just of the things you mentioned above but the scaling you mention is important. I’m old enough that everything I knew of before was “hand crafted servers that you hug”. You spend days/weeks/months getting your app server connected to your database and if you needed more you rinse and repeat.

    What I really came to understand is that for most startups and nimble companies is servers are “disposable” instant to instant. Loosely coupled servers that create a ecosystem that can withstand failure (see netflix chaos monkey) Scale up when you need to and the “cloud” knows where to go to boot, download scripts and reassemble servers on demand based on demand. Again netflix is a great example, it runs completely on aws and takes advantage of being multi tenant, paying for the hardware they need by the hour and scales itself up in peak hours. It will take us a while to get there but a smarter ecosystem is where we are headed.

  4. Mark, I really like the points you made here, especially on #5. That clearly defines “cloud-based application” with gmail being the perfect example. I would add #6 is Cloud is also about being socially responsible and CIOs should embrace ‘Cloud First’ on non-core applications. If all ITs moves their email to be hosted by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, or whomever, we would have millions of exchange servers decommissioned and that hardware, people resources, power, and time can be re-used for something more beneficial to the company and the society in general.

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