A while back I told a colleague about my home server. And back then (I recently built a new one, a man needs a hobby) it ran VMware server. And while I was explaining what it could do, he looked back at me and said: “But then you run you own in-house private virtualized cloud”. Say what? Yes, cloud. And he was serious.
Today you can’t read any IT related (online) article or magazine without in some way see cloud or cloud related topics being mentioned. While doing some investigation for this article the initial thing that I could come up with, that really was not cloud related, was a mainframe. But soon I found out that IBM made sure that with Bluemix you can vaporize your Z into the cloud. So if everything is or can be cloud, what is it that distinguishes cloud from legacy and what is the benefit of using it?
What is cloud?
The quick answer on the web basically boils down to “get stuff done over the Internet”. But we already could do that in the 70s. And back then cloud was just something that ruined your day off on the beach. So, is cloud just a hype? Today, 2016, cloud is not a hype any more (IoT and self-driving cars are) but an integral concept in IT.
According to Gardner the total spend on cloud in 2016 will be (I rounded off a bit) 30 billion. That a lot of cloud. And there is still a lot of growth potential. So, if cloud at a high level definition is just: “getting stuff done over the Internet”, there must be some huge advantage about this way of working.
What is so different about cloud??
Ok, let’s start by eliminating the assumption that cloud is cheaper. Use Google (also cloud) and find anything from 7 times cheaper to twice as expensive. It depends. What we do know is that your CAPEX will be lower, but you will spend more on OPEX. For the sake of the argument, let’s call it a tie. There must therefore be another reason why cloud is becoming so dominant. There must be something different, that make’s what we had, old and unwanted, and that makes cloud hot and sexy ergo wanted. If we take a look back and search the past, we all remember the happy end user who discovered that with the company’s credit card he (or she, I will keep using “he”, it saves on typing :-) could get any system up and running that he liked in hours. And what he got, he found quicker, leaner and better that any IT department could do!
Although, initially it not always went smooth: A friend of mine told me how happy they were with their first implementation of Salesforce, only thing was, no one could print anything anymore. They had just started, and they never though that printing could come up as a problem. In the end it did. This shows one of the major problems when implementing a cloud environment in the past. The connectivity with the legacy (old) systems. And don’t forget (I really try not to) it still is an issue to take into account when designing a cloud architecture today.
Thus, cloud is quicker, easier to obtain, more lean and just better. But is that enough to explain its popularity? Let go forward. We have all learned to look for the question behind the question. Now let’s ask the question for the answer behind this answer. Why was our end user so eager to get a system on his own, and got something that worked for him?
The cloud advantage
The reason our end user wanted and got something from the cloud was because he needed a functionality that was not in the system he was using. Where in the past if you needed something, you went to your manager, he went to his manager, he called the IT manager, and the IT manager then asked his department to find a solution. And strangely enough those solutions always turned out expensive, needing big machines and more IT guys (and it took forever).
This is the real differentiator of cloud, it can provide you with what you need, when you need it, where you need it and in any desired quantity. And our connectivity problem from the previous paragraph? When all is running in the cloud, getting connectivity is not a problem anymore. The advantage of the cloud is that; other systems are or can also be in the cloud.
But was our IT department not always warning us about connectivity, legal and privacy issues? And maybe there right; of course you would not like it if your new design gets stored on a Chinese/USA/Russian/Belgium server. So has cloud matured enough (and is still maturing), so that it can now serve our needs without troubling risk and privacy issues?
The flexibility of cloud
It is the using of the flexibility of the cloud model that brings us the total advantage. Let’s imagen that we could grab a real cloud, we can model it, make it into any shape we like, and it will not break when dropped.
Till now traditional IT was more like ice cubes, always the same, if you ordered more, it quickly was hard to handle and if you ordered bigger, there was a danger of breaking it (imagine big ice blocks). Ordering a cloud is actually like real clouds. The come in any shape, form or size. The IT cloud model is much like modelling real clouds, it’s scalable, resilient and very agile.
The cloud model that came out of the public cloud, the agile, scalable resilient cloud, is maturing and we started to use it also for outsourcing (private cloud) and even our own systems (private in house cloud :-). We only need to make sure that all our different clouds speak the same language, but OpenStack is a good choice that will enable you to have your cloud anywhere you prefer.
With the IT department back in control again, IT can be managing where the processing and data storage takes place. Your test environment can go public, the pay check information of your employee can be kept in house. But if our end user in the legal department needs another tool to access his data he can just request it and get it within hours. Doing what he needs to be done; quicker, leaner but still abiding all company/privacy rules. It is called the “hybrid cloud”, mixing it all and making you IT agile.
And what about the money?
Of course there is still is a last question to ask “why does any organization needs this agility”? That one is simple: profit. When as an organization it is easier for you to adapt to a changing market, you can serve your customers better. If you need more power just scale up, if you need to connect some new system, just start the right connector in the cloud. And during the holidays, just scale it all down again. Happier costumers, leading to more revenue, but with the same IT spend. So cloud, will not cost less, but will bring you more profit!