Cloud Computing: Confusion to Convergence?

What a difference a few months can make.  Late last year, the data center technology market was reeling from one of the worst downturns ever, and there was a raging debate on the relevance and meaning of cloud computing.  High profile industry executives and IT customers were public with their disdain for the hype of cloud computing, while others evangelized their view of cloud computing with ferocious zealotry.  The range of opinions on the definition of cloud computing was almost comical.    Some viewed cloud as a data center architecture approach, focusing on application and server virtualization.  Others viewed it as a sourcing model, where applications would be purchased as a service on the internet than via packaged apps and self-hosted infrastructure.   One partner told me that any company who manually migrated a live virtual machine already had a cloud, while the visionaries suggested that anything short of a fully automated, fully federated, dynamically scalable multi-tenant environment was just business as usual. Cloud computing was marked by a cacophony of disparate and contradictory voices – in short, a mess.

While there is still a measure of cynicism and disparity of opinion on definitions of cloud computing, it’s amazing to me how much convergence I’ve observed over the past few quarters.  As a community of technology providers, solution providers, and leading IT users, we may still be wrong but at least we’re no longer in doubt.  First, there is widespread acknowledgement that cloud computing is transformative, and first and foremost about an architecture for delivering IT.    The distinctions between cloud computing architectures and traditional methods of IT deliver are usually described in 3 areas:  1) Automation:  policies rather than people optimize the infrastructure for cost and performance; 2) Dynamic scaling:  the infrastructure can adapt, scaling up or down, to the demands of the workload; and 3) Multi-tenancy: a common infrastructure hosts the applications and services of multiple different internal or external customers.  It’s now common to refer to private clouds as infrastructure built by a company for their own use, and public clouds as infrastructure made available as a service over the internet.  The terms between SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS are used with reasonable consistency to describe cloud offerings. Of course there are tons of combinations of services that blur the lines between public and private clouds, but they all strive to offer the significant cost saving and scale advantages of cloud computing.

It’s possible I’m a bit optimistic on the degree of convergence of opinion on cloud computing, but even if I’m right, we have a long way to go before it’s practical and easy to deploy.   At a vision and definition level, you can now virtually interchange the logos of various companies in our industry, but when it comes to implementation, the recommendations will look even more diverse and contradictory.  The overwhelming concern most organizations and even individuals have relative to cloud computing is security – how can you trust your data and critical business processes to infrastructure that is hosting someone else’s service as well (even if the “someone else” is in a different division or function at your own company).  Some may view this fear as unfounded, but everyone acknowledges the concern.  Customers are also worried about the tradeoff between a fully integrated but proprietary approach, and an interoperable multi-vendor approach that may take more integration.   It’s an exciting, but daunting time, both for technology providers and IT customers.  CIO's recent article on cloud computing, presents one interesting view of how to navigate these challenges.

We’re in a unique position at Intel.  Our technology is prevalent in most data centers, representing a consistent foundation for servers and increasingly storage devices.  At the same time, we’re one of the only significant players in the cloud that doesn’t focus on full business solutions.   We remain committed to our role as an essential ingredient provider in the data center, which means our only option is to work with the entire industry to define and deliver solutions to make the promise of cloud computing a reality a bit sooner.

We’d love your input on the biggest needs for your organization – where are you in the development of your strategy for taking advantage of the cloud, and what would help you move faster?