The Cloud Remains Unclear to Us


True to its name, cloud computing continues to prove itself quite a murky fog to see through. Early this year in my own talks, I started saying that it’s best not to think of it as a technology (or technological development) at all, but instead as a kind of a strategy template. I still like this point of view, but I can understand if it doesn’t clarify anything for you. In fact it might look like I’m dodging the issue, or trying to outdo everyone else with a claim that the cloud solves everything.

Well, I’m currently attending the Gartner Symposium ITxpo in Orlando, Florida, and I can’t feel so bad about this. Because even the brilliant analysts at Gartner—who are truly excellent at framing issues and organizing strategic IT thinking—can’t provide us with full clarity about the cloud, at least not yet.

The second day’s presentation by Gartner Fellows David Mitchell Smith and Daryl Plummer provided a terrific overview of where we’re at with cloud computing and how we should be dealing with it. They defined cloud-service tiers in a thought-provoking conceptual way, going beyond most current models, that run from infrastructure as a service up to software as a service, by adding information and business-process services as the highest levels of cloud computing. Their elucidation of cloud computing’s benefits, which included agility, cost, and focus—the latter of which, whereby cloud computing frees up resources for an organization to be able to concentrate on its core value proposition, needs a good deal more attention.

On the other hand, the presentation also gave you so much to chew on, some of it rather peripheral and some even contradictory, that it was easy to get confused. The list of concerns initially read like a second list of benefits. Security and integration, sure, are big concerns Gartner named; but transparency and assurance surely are cloud-neutral, especially if you pay attention to your SLAs (see below for more on that). And lock-in as a concern? Lock-in really is inimical to cloud computing. Unless you’re one of the big IT vendors, hoping, hoping.

This is a still developing market, with a dynamism we haven’t seen in some time—possibly ever—in IT. It is crying out for clarity. I think that you need clarity, and simple prescriptive advice, in the face of something so beneficial in so many ways and yet so amorphous. Gartner fairly sang when the analysts covered contract negotiations, by listing and discussing concrete items to address, such as ownership of the data and application, geographic coverage and residency, transparency, and more. More like that, please!