by Faisal Hoque of BTM Corporation
It’s nearly impossible to pick up a technology magazine or sit through a strategy meeting without encountering a reference to what some consider the next and greatest wave in enterprise computing: "The Cloud."
“Cloud” is a fitting term for something shrouded in mystery and hard to grasp. We’re not helped by the plethora of buzzwords that seem to accompany this concept: grid, utility, service oriented architecture, service management, software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and so on.
It’s easy to get lost in the wonders of the technology and the lofty promises of the new age it will usher in, but we must stay anchored since this is, ultimately, a matter of business, not technology. As such, its usefulness must be assessed in the context of the enterprise as a whole. New ways of thinking are required. Investment decisions and the measurement of success will not be about individual technologies, or projects, or even the IT department itself, because "The Cloud" is about the whole organization.
Essentially, cloud computing can be thought of as processing and data storage done “elsewhere,” meaning, physically removed from the user and, typically, off-site. The user does not need to think at all about the hardware; that is selected and made available by the company that maintains the cloud. In some cases, the user won’t need to think about specific applications, he will just specify the functionality he needs.
In still other cases, a business side end user will employ the functionality without a technology department acting as an intermediary; the strategic and tactical guidance now performed by internal technology departments will reside in the cloud.
While efficiency and cost savings are a legitimate motive for pursuing cloud computing, and will be the initial motive for most companies to move in that direction, some see clouds as enablers of innovation and agility. If hardware and software are instantly available and always up to date, and if reliability and privacy are guaranteed, then a firm can focus all of its energy on new business models; experimenting on the fly and learning from new approaches to finding and satisfying customers.
Factoring in the computing resources needed for a new initiative will be just a matter of when to push the button.
As such, it is best to not get too wrapped up in parsing the various terms associated with the cloud. Utility computing, for example, refers to the pay-per-use or metered approach that Amazon uses. Electric power is often used as an analogy: you plug in your appliance and don’t really care how the electricity is created or who is doing it.
Grid computing refers to the linking of thousands of computers to which pieces of a gigantic problem, often scientific in nature today, are distributed. The grid offers processing power and storage unavailable in a typical single organization.
In practice, organizations will move to the cloud incrementally, shifting portions of their computing needs to it over time. Smaller companies will see immediate payoff in moving completely. Larger companies must wrestle with proprietary systems that are strategically critical and extremely complex and unique business processes that have been built up over time and can’t be easily handed off.
What we cannot avoid -- and it is much more difficult than buying servers and software seats -- is the changing nature of work itself. Leading companies are moving toward the convergence of their management of business and technology. This simply means that decision-makers are conversant in each and act on each to advance a strategy. For them, technology is no longer a mysterious activity hidden away in a glass house.
The computing tools in the cloud will be represented to the end user virtually in non-technical ways, so that he or she can use them without excessive and specialized training. At the same time, the user will be ever more knowledgeable about the potential of the tools and ever more adept at manipulating them.