Cloud computing - the promise is real, but the hype is extreme, too


Editor's note: Kip Turco, chief operating officer at Hosted Solutions, was the keynote speaker at two recent Local Tech Wire Executives Edge events that focused on opportunities and obstacles in "cloud computing."

If you're involved in information technology in the least, you've been bombarded for the last year by "cloud computing." On a recent day, a typical one, I found 149 new articles dealing with the topic.

So, let's make this 150. But let's use this column to urge everyone to take a deep breath.

The very premise of cloud computing is incredible; it holds the promise of lower costs, faster implementation, and the ability for companies to be far more flexible in how they use technology. But I'm afraid we've gone far past overload, and far past saturation, in figuring out exactly how cloud computing can honestly be used.

Which is where a recent report from the McKinsey consulting firm may shed some welcome light. While it starts off by saying that cloud computing "promises a revolution in IT similar to the birth of the web and e-commerce," it also urges a "hype-free approach" to determining exactly what cloud computing is.

That's important, because too many vendors have been too quick to slap a "cloud" label on virtually anything that moves, hoping that potential customers will seize on it as a gotta-have. McKinsey defines the "cloud" as having three components:

  1. Hardware management that is highly abstracted from the buyer;
  2. Buyers incur infrastructure costs as variable operating expenditures;
  3. Infrastructure capacity is highly elastic (up or down). Simply put, the "cloud" is the mechanism.

Please note that this defines the cloud itself, not services available through the cloud. So if a vendor tells you that their storage, network, security or application hosting services are the cloud, call them on it. They're muddying the waters, and making it more difficult for everyone to standardize on one common set of terminology. Vendors owe their customers and prospects messaging that's long on honest portrayal, and short on hype.

For instance, there are a number of services available today, such as companies that provide infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or software as a service (SaaS). Again, these are not necessarily cloud companies, although they can provide their services through the cloud.

The McKinsey report also makes it clear that small- and mid-sized enterprises are in position to economically benefit more from a "cloud" implementation than larger firms, where cost savings from large data centers have already been realized. Those firms, however, can also use cloud services on what McKinsey calls "smaller compute equivalents." They also can take advantage of firms that offer hands-on advice, and don't try to simply shoebox you into one existing package or another. That may be good for the vendor, but it's not going to benefit their customers in the long run.

The real danger, if everyone continues throwing "cloud" terminology around, is that it will be perceived as meaning anything to everyone, which means it'll end up meaning nothing at all, which would be a shame, because the promise of "cloud computing" is quite significant.

At the end of the day, there must be a level of mutual trust between vendors and their customers. As vendors, it starts with an honest assessment of what we sell. As customers, it requires an equally honest commitment to do your homework on how the "cloud" and/or cloud services will help your company do its job more effectively and cost-efficiently. If we both do that, and try to stay as "hype-free" as possible, we'll all win.