What are the first words that come to mind when you think of the cloud? Low cost, perhaps. Pay as you go, maybe. Probably also: not secure, too complex, regulatory headaches, lacking standards, no interoperability.
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Ask two CIOs to explain what the cloud means to them, and you’ll almost certainly receive two different answers. Ask them what are their concerns about the cloud, and they will be in greater agreement.
Sadly, the cloud is currently going the way of so many great technologies in IT – from initial curiosity, to ensuing enthusiasm, to widespread confusion in the light of a welter of meaningless acronyms and a lack of best practice. IaaS? PaaS? SaaS? You can find a cloud supplier putting “at a service” on the end of pretty much every technology available, to the extent it all becomes rather meaningless.
And now that we have a few early adopters, we even hear that some find moving to the cloud doesn’t necessarily save the money they had been promised.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the cloud means so many different things to so many different people. So here is a definition that we think will become increasingly significant: cloud is no more, and no less, than the commoditisation of processing power.
In the same way as the internet commoditised networking, and that smartphones, tablets and laptops are commoditising end-user devices, the cloud is doing the same to servers, storage and the provision of software applications on top.
Commoditisation does, typically, mean lower unit costs. But its significance goes much further – it creates a platform for innovation. Once the big, costly, processor, storage, server stuff is reduced to the level of Amazon offering 1Gb of archive disk space per month for just one US cent, it opens up access to computer power previously inaccessible to start-ups and innovators, and really shakes up markets.
There is enormous competitive advantage to be gained by organisations that understand how to make the most of the opportunities for innovation that the cloud presents. If all you want from the cloud is to save money, then you can do that too, if you get it right. But the potential benefits are so much more.