Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why the cloud is unavoidable.

This is really old stuff, but I feel it's worth repeating.

The importance of "cloud" computing to business is far beyond simple cost savings, allocation of resources, capex to opex conversion and economies of scale. These are the obvious reasons for considering the cloud and they are little more than a follow my leader game caused by the commoditisation of IT. As more competitors adopt the cloud it will create cost competitive pressures for others to follow. Consumers of IT will need simply to adapt to this change in order to retain their relative competitive positions (this is known as the red queen effect).

It's a very old merry-go-round caused by the usual transition of the once novel and new field of IT infrastucture to more of a commodity. It will have all the trappings of past transitions from the cries of users for second sourcing options, the battles over standards and portability, the usual formation of exchanges, brokerages, marketplaces and the confusion created by vendors as they attempt to prevent their industry being commoditised.

However buried in all this is one truly interesting aspect known as componentisation. From the work of Herbert Simon's and his theory of hierarchy, we know that the speed of evolution of any system is directly related to the organisation of its subsystems. Take a moment to consider how fast it is to build an application today using a database and a development platform and then compare this to how slow it would be to build the same application if you had to first start designing the cpu, I/O and memory.

Componentisation can make an incredible difference and the more organised the subsystems are, the faster it is to build new and adapt old systems.

The computing stack, from the applications we write, to the platforms we build upon, to the operating systems we use are now moving from a product to a service based economy. This change can be clearly seen from a quick scan of what is hot today. Software as a Service, Web Services, Mashing up Data Services, Hardware as a Service, Service oriented architecture ... it's all the same thing.

The shift towards services will also lead to standardisation of lower orders of the computing stack to internet provided components. A consequence of this will be an acceleration in the speed at which new IT systems can be built and modified. The world of IT and business on the web is about to get a whole lot faster.

It should be remembered that the battle for survival of any company revolves around the non-trivial task of balancing the needs of adaptation (changes to the market, the red queen effect) and innovation (creative destruction). However, it is these two effects of adaptation (through maintaining cost competitiveness and matching increased competitor agility to adapt to changes) and innovation (an ability to bring new ideas to market more quickly) which will force any business to choose cloud.

You don't have a choice, you never did. The cat is well and truly out of the bag and the old way is in decline. If you think that "cloud" is simply about more efficient and lower cost provision of IT then prepare yourself for a rude awakening.

You might think that cloud computing won't effect you, but it will if you use any form of IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, at different layers of the computing stack, various companies are preparing a gilded cage for you to walk into.

You should already be thinking about the cloud and your first words to any vendor should be:-

  • "Show me the alternative providers running a similar service not owned by you and how easy is it to switch between your service, their service and one I want to run myself?"

  • "Am I dependent upon any particularly vendor with these services?"