January 21, 2011

Consider the Source: The Myth of the False Cloud

Jake Sorofman

At a very young age, my mother told me to consider the source—to never take authoritative pronouncements at face value. I hadn’t thought much about this back in those more innocent days, but as my cynicism has matured, I’ve learned that behind such declarations is often an agenda that’s hidden only in vain.

The worst offending is often the impossibly pithy—slogans that are a little too packaged and pristine to represent any authentic truth. If it sounds too neat and convenient, chances are it’s an agenda-backed instrument of manipulation.

A good example of this is the cautionary refrain from Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com; and Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon Web Services:

“Beware of the false cloud!”

These gentlemen are visionaries and revolutionaries in their own rights; they have a great deal of credibility and they’ve made contributions to IT that will be remembered for many decades. But, on this particular topic, they’re anything but credible. As the titans of the public cloud, they have an obvious axe to grind.

As Public Enemy protested: “Don’t believe the hype!”

As their argument goes, if you own the hardware, it’s not a cloud.

I’m not buying it. The private cloud is anything but illegitimate.

Here’s why:

Cloud is About Agility

IT used to be your cable company. It held the local monopoly for IT services. The wait you experienced was a frustrating, but necessary part of your relationship with IT. You had no choice. But now you do. Public cloud has ended the wait.

Why wait three months when three minutes will do?

That question has captured the attention of IT leadership, which realizes that the public cloud has dramatically changed performance expectations for IT.

Traditionally, the CIO was expected to improve performance incrementally year over year; last year’s metrics were next year’s benchmarks and your goal was to ensure the curve was moving in the right direction. Today, the expectation is for a radical transformation in agility and responsiveness—from months to minutes.

Amazon can do it. Why can’t you?

But this question isn’t unleashing a wholesale migration of enterprise workloads to the public cloud; it’s the impetus for the private cloud transformation.
Private Cloud is the Entry Point for Enterprise IT

I’ve yet to see an analyst projection that doesn’t point to the private cloud as the beachhead for enterprise IT organizations making this transformation.

Three reasons that is the case:

  • Compliance—Private cloud mitigates the security and privacy issues related to regulated workloads running outside the firewall.
  • Culture—Private cloud is better aligned to the command-and-control cultures and expectations of enterprise IT organizations.
  • Economics—Private cloud leverages existing infrastructure investments and it is significantly more cost effective for long-running workloads. It turns out that “pennies an hour” compounds remarkably fast!

Private Cloud Was the Entry Point for Amazon EC2…

That’s right: Before Amazon EC2 was a public cloud it was a private cloud!

Why? For the same reasons enterprise IT organizations are building private clouds today: Flexibility and agility.

So, to call the private cloud illegitimate isn’t just illogical; it’s a little hypocritical.

It’s important to acknowledge that all of this hullaballoo around clouds may be an issue of semantics. Ultimately, it doesn’t much matter if you call this internal elastic infrastructure a cloud, a grid or some other such thing.

What matters is the acknowledgement that enterprise IT organizations must become self-service on-demand providers of infrastructure, platforms and applications. In the future, IT must look like a public cloud in its own right.

It’s also important to acknowledge that private clouds are the starting point on this journey and not necessarily the final destination. Most enterprises will want to blend together a variety of internal and external resources to create an integrated “hybrid cloud” that allows workloads to be dynamically retargeted to optimize for price, policy, performance and various service level characteristics.

Of course, this argument deserves one final acknowledgement: I, too, have my own biases and my own axe to grind. I’m pretty sure we all do.

So, don’t take my pronouncements at face value. Consider them as one perspective in forming your own version of the truth.


Jake is a seasoned software marketing executive with a strong product strategy and communications background. Previously, he was SVP of marketing and business development for JustSystems, the largest ISV in Japan and a leader in XML technologies. Before that, Jake was VP of product marketing with Mercury Interactive (now part of HP Software), where he was responsible for the Systinet product line. He joined Mercury though Mercury’s $105 million acquisition of Systinet Corporation. Before Mercury, Jake led marketing for two WebSphere products at IBM Software Group, which he joined through the acquisition of Venetica. Prior to Venetica, Jake was director of product marketing with Documentum, Inc. (now part of EMC), which he joined through the acquisition of eRoom Technology.

Jake has a BA in english and political science from University of New Hampshire and an MBA from the McCallum Graduate School of Business at Bentley College, where he was an American Marketing Association George Hay Brown Scholar.

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