Monday, September 7, 2009

Is the Cloud Timeshares All Over Again?

I recently heard a much heralded analyst discussing the cloud. He described how we had seen it all before and that it would never amount to anything, a fad of sorts.

The primary argument was that the cloud is simply a rehash of timeshare systems from the sixties and is therefore not innovative, useful, or relevant. I wasn’t alive then but I was stuck with the legacy through college. It is not the same. There are surface level similarities to be sure. They both rely on a client server relationship. They both rely on shared resources. That’s like saying a Mustang from the sixties is the same as a Tesla from today because they both have four wheels and go fast. The engine may still power the wheels but the driving and maintenance experience is radically different. The cloud is different because it is low cost and seamlessly elastic. The cost of getting started with a cloud service? About the same as a cup of coffee. The steps to expand your cloud footprint? A few clicks, 5 minutes of your time, and another cup of coffee.

He also argued that people need to know where their data physically resides. Without that critical information he believes that public cloud computing is useless for real business.

To kickoff this second round of argument he stated that SaaS is not cloud because the users know where their data is. A significant exemption when arguing that the public facing cloud is not for real business. He went on to note that, in the case of, it was in a building off of highway 101 in California. I’m not sure that knowing that my data exists in a particular building off a particular highway gives me any sense of comfort. Do they offer visiting hours so that I can take a walk around the data center with my data? Even the administrators would be hard pressed to find the exact disk drive that any particular customer data lives on. And they certainly aren’t going to let me do anything with it. God forbid anything happened while I was visiting my data. “Fire! Quick, grab your data!” Forget the data, I would be busy running and thinking, I hope they’ve replaced their Halon fire suppression systems that have the side effect of killing anything that requires oxygen. No, if I needed a local copy of my data I would probably just batch it from my SaaS vendor.

He furthers this argument with the notion that people really really really want to know where their data is. They want to see the server it is sitting on, they want to see the little green light that says it is on. This is a non-technical person mind you, looking at a green LED, feeling comforted. Quaint. I’m not sure my boss even knows what room to look in to find the server with his data. I don’t know what room to look in and I use some of those servers. I hope someone does. Oh, that’s right, our critical corporate sales and financial data is hosted by a SaaS vendor. What building on 101 is that again?

I do appreciate his perspective but I think his line of reasoning is flawed. I believe the desire to just have things work far outweighs the desire to be able to physically touch and feel the server that data is sitting on. For the hobbyist the transition from that sixties Mustang is going to be tough. They want to pop the hood, swap the spark plugs, change the oil, maybe adjust the throttle. The rest of us just want to drive fast, the less maintenance the better. That translates into less time and less money that I need to invest into my driving experience.

This is what the cloud and SaaS offer, tools that just work. Without any installation, without any cables, without any front loaded expenses, without waiting. It is comparatively less expensive than hosting your own servers. It grows and shrinks with your need and it does it in minutes. Software that just works, is an elastic resource, and I only pay for what I need? That is a new concept.

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