You Are Not Even Wrong About the Cloud - Part 2

In the first part of this blog series, I described the orthogonal nature of costs and benefits with regard to Cloud computing. The mismatch between the forces that incur costs and rack up benefits has led to a general misunderstanding of this technology area. The first area for examination of this mismatch are the different audiences investigating Cloud computing.

The past couple of years have really reminded me of the early 90s, with Cloud taking the place of graphical user interfaces (GUIs). I distinctly remember being at the launch of Window 3.0, the first real GUI from Microsoft, the dominant client operating system. There were a bunch of crotchety old IT guys (who were probably younger than I am now) complaining about how they “weren’t going to buy 286s to run Windows”. And they were probably right. They didn’t buy 286s that year – they bought 486s in two years.

Because the wave of GUIs was an unstoppable tsunami. The client side of the environment went from green-screen/command-line to GUI in just a couple of years, whether IT liked it or not. The reason was simple: it was easier.

Well, not exactly. The IT departments were right when they claimed that GUIs were not easier to use than command lines. But they were wrong about this in a very important way – using a GUI felt easier than using a command line interface.

A GUI put users in the driver’s seat. Rather than select from a fixed number of choices, which may not have been entirely comprehensible to them (having been created by programmers), a user could simply point to something in a GUI environment. The user was in control. This control led to a feeling of confidence and self-sufficiency. And those feelings were the force behind that tsunami. All of a sudden, regular people could use IT systems.

Regular people – you know, the ones who made the money used to pay for the IT systems and staff. On one hand, this phenomena led to an enormous boom in IT in general, and the effects shaped the size and shape of the IT world we continue to live in.

For the IT staff, the change was massive, exacerbated by the explosion in the use of computing systems. Not only were they being dragged away from their traditional green screens, but the size of their constituency expanded dramatically.

Hence the orthogonality. A whole lot of people responsible for implementing systems thought that they had to change everything for no good reasons – the core functionality of their systems was not improved by all this work. But to end users, unaware of the depth of the change on underlying systems, the choice was also simple, but opposite. They wanted those easy-to-use systems.

Pain for IT, benefits for their user community. Orthogonal for the overall organization, although clear (and clearly opposite) to the different sides of the coin.

The discussion surrounding the Cloud seems analogous to me. To users (and, more importantly, to CFOs), the Cloud seems like everything will be simple, fast and easy. The same app, running in the Cloud, becomes magically, deliciously available and understandable. Oh, and cheap. So run, run, run to the Cloud, sweeping away any objections from that pesky IT staff. (And, potentially, some of that IT staff itself, saving even more money.)

IT organizations look to the Cloud to reduce complexity of their overall work, making their jobs simpler and more direct (and not reduce their staff, since they are overburdened already and an explosion in IT solutions will just make things worse). But, as with the move to GUIs, they want their jobs to remain basically the same, which means the same overhead for those business people. IT is reluctant to do the exact things – rethink and re-engineer solutions and procedures – necessary to achieve the benefits sought by the business side of the house.

Additionally, both of these groups lack a basic understanding of exactly how Cloud computing can offer the benefits each side desires. The Cloud does not reduce costs by selling at a loss and making it up in volume, which is more of a used car salesman approach. And the Cloud does not reduce complexity by having the same set of individualized operational processes that each separate company has and somehow doing it cheaper. The Cloud gets benefits by making the IT stack, at different levels, a product through the imposition of standards-driven automation.

This basic approach has implications, and leads to another orthogonal situation which will be examined in the next blog post.


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