Friday, 25 January 2013

A Face Off Over Cloud Computing

Recently, I met with a consultant friend over a cup of coffee. During the conversation, he asked me a straight question:  "What are the barriers in adoption of cloud? " With all his consulting experience in the area of cloud computing, I knew this was a googly. This topic has been debated in-depth on several forums, round tables, cocktail dinners, and technology media; hence not a new question to have been asked by this gentleman. I, in turn, posed a counter question: "What answers do you get from others?" After a long-drawn silence, he said: "I seldom get the true picture".

This vindicated my apprehension that this was not an easy question which I could get away with by talking about security, standards, SLAs and vendor lock-in etc. To initiate a healthy debate, I am going to put forward my thoughts and observations which may go against the popular sentiments. Hence, my unconditional apologies if the truth appears to be harsh or if I make mistakes in expressing myself. 

In my view, the true reasons behind cloud adoption are different from what we think. Unfortunately, many constraints mentioned by consumers of cloud are packed with answers and solutions. Still, we share the same views over and over again and it becomes a perceived truth.  In my view, some of the reasons which prevent cloud adoption are:-

a) Lack of Understanding: Though there are many people who claim that they understand cloud very well, in fact many of them are not in sync with ground realities; and I am no exception. The more I went deep into it, the more myths got busted. In the absence of knowledge, myths and hypes rule the roost; and many of these are created by technology vendors to suit their convenience. Most people believe that security is an issue. I ask small and medium business (SMB) consumers that can they protect their data better than what large cloud providers can do?

b) Organizational Politics: It will raise many an eyebrow as to why organizational politics comes in the way of cloud initiatives. I suggest everyone to read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell, wherein an initiative to build a wind mill in the farm was at the epicentre of politics among animals. Those who opposed were actually in favour of it and those who took the initiative were branded as opponents. You can always find a correlation with a real-world situation and may actually be able to relate to some of the characters. 

Sometimes you have a marketing team who would like the initiative to be under its hat or you have another department who thinks that it should be the rightful owner. Thanks to commoditization of technology that it is more of a business challenge rather than technology and it is time to rethink jurisdictions and redefine the line of control. Very often, internal IT infrastructure chiefs may oppose cloud because they feel they are losing control or the power to spend.

c) Capex Vs Opex: This topic is less debated but it also needs to be looked at carefully. It is perceived that most cloud spending is in opex and hence no scope of capitalisation of cloud. For specific shareholding interests, the cloud will be discouraged for financial reasons unless the CIO is able to convince how cloud can be capitalised. 

d) Understanding of Value: Most cloud providers have tried to convince their customers that the real value lies in cost savings. Cost is much more tangible, lucrative and easy to sell. A perception has been built around the expectation of savings. In reality, however, when you look at the total cost of operations, which includes implementation, license, support etc, it may not always be a delight. The opportunity which exists, for sure, is cycle time reduction in provisioning the servers which is the biggest benefit of cloud. In my humble opinion, the true value should be shown in terms of cycle time, followed by cost reduction so that it does not create any hype.

e) Conflict of Interests: There are many cloud providers who happen to be hardware manufactures as well. Cloud has a possibility of cannibalizing one business unit because of another. This is a dichotomy, and conflict of interest is bound to arise. How the organisations deal with these conflicts is something interesting. But in private, there are many who believe that this has an implication on how cloud is perceived or the speed at which it may be adopted. In my view, constructive destruction is necessary at times for survival and the growth of cloud may lead to increase in demand for hardware.

f) Lack of Connect: I feel that there is a lack of connect between various parties and a true understanding can come if we debate the issues more often. On a lighter note, cocktails and dinners over cloud definitely serve our tummy and sometimes our brain too. It is now time to have a more serious dialogue on what industry wants to do on cloud. If public cloud is comparatively more secure, provides better SLAs, and there are ways to capitalise, cut down cycle time and save costs, we have the answers to a lot of questions. We should not wait any longer.

My aim is to ignite a healthy debate to uncover the mysteries that are a result of thoughts which may not be relevant today. If there are genuine concerns, we have to find answers. We have to work on standards and ensure that we adopt cloud faster, if it is worth the time and effort.  

My humble request to IT chiefs is to participate in this debate and take cloud to the next level in 2013; so that the next time we have coffee together, we talk about "cloud broker architecture" and not "cloud adoption".

Note: This blog was originally posted in and now being reposted here. The author is same in both the places.

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