Interop Enterprise Cloud Summit

The Enterprise Cloud Summit at Interop Las Vegas 2012 was filled with fascinating speakers, sharing their thoughts on the state of cloud computing through a number of creative analogies stolen from philosophy, biology and history. After the day, here are the insights that stuck with me.

Cloud is still not well defined

I always hesitate to put the ‘mandatory cloud slides’ in each of my presentations, but many presenters just launch into cloud presentations and market slides with no clear definition of what they meant by cloud. This was especially lacking in the presenters who included market size data – what did they include in their numbers? Did they consider SaaS, PaaS and IaaS as well as private vs. public deployments? Even for non-market sessions, there remains some doubts about what is included in everyone’s definitions. Although some panelists seemed to think that we no longer needed these definitions, I think we do, and I think the traditional ones do work well (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS; private vs. public). As an example, although most of this community would not consider Software-as-a-Service to be a ‘real’ cloud service, that’s still the perception that many customers hold, partly because that’s how vendors market their solutions. So many it’s ok to have one set of definitions and standards when we talk to each other, but we have to ensure this makes sense to the business community as well.

Cloud is different

Another them of the day was to stop thinking about devices and to start thinking about systems. We are entering an era where we have to deal at a higher and higher level of abstractions, which will have an important impact on how we approach the problem. We’re not dealing with a single atom or cell anymore, we’re looking at an entire organism – even ecosystem. Similarly, we can’t think about CPU’s and servers anymore but about applications and clouds. Virtualization was easy to adopt – it was merely a better mouse trap. But clouds require a real change, and change is hard.

Hence, when we deal with clouds, we can’t use simple black and white logic but need to approach with the same tools as these complex systems. Clouds are messy, they are complex but the world is a better place with evil in it because there are more possibilities. You can’t ignore them, and you have to understand how they work and how I interact with them. The best quote of the day: “Stop treating your servers like pets and start treating them like cattle” (the runner up: “if you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing faster in the cloud”.

Cloud can help reduce costs – or not

CloudAbility presented us with the financial challenges that the cloud presents (you have to give it to their marketing guys – their tagline is “We cover your *aaS”. Nice.). “The Hidden Cost of the cloud” is a very important topic and we’ve certainly seen CloudOps customers struggle with these new issues that the cloud exposes: overages, sprawl, waste. As CloudOps CEO Ian Rae said, “With the cloud you can build an awful infrastructure really efficiently.” We saw some real life stories of customers who just ‘forgot’ to turn servers off, had to deal with server sprawl, and overall struggled to keep costs under control.

In addition, the pure cost of some cloud resources can add up – one TB of storage in the cloud can easily be more expensive than the same amount of local storage.

Still, when the resources are managed properly, cloud solutions can indeed provide costs advantages. And when looking at costs, it’s important to compare apples to apples. Outside of the actual costs of servers, for example, one must also consider all the other administration and management costs that are eliminated.

Cloud is business

It was also refreshing to see so many presenters bringing the conversation back to where it matters: driving the business. The process starts with the business requirements, which are driving the IT requirements, usually in the form of one (or many) applications. And most vendors agree that not all applications should move to the cloud, at least in their current state. As a result IT organizations can take an ‘application portfolio’ approach, reviewing each application based on its requirements, its current architecture and the desired performance of the application. Again there is general agreement here, and the consensus is that there is a category of applications that are now designed from the start to leverage the new capabilities of the cloud, for example web and mobile applications that are widely distributed and accessed.

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