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Confused About Cloud Computing? You should be...

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Confused About Cloud Computing? You should be...

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You or may not believe this, but I think we've reached a point with Cloud Computing where the discussions centered around "definitions" are almost over and we'll quickly be moving into a stage of people/companies wanting to do stuff. I know what you're thinking...thank goodness we can finally stop having every presentation begin with a NIST definition, or a stack showing *aaS this and *aaS that.

That's the good news.

The bad news? The number of available Cloud Computing options in the market today is mind-blowing. Let's take a basic inventory (in no particular order):

Before you dive into these lists, keep this quote from 'The Wire' in mind:   
Cutty: "The game done changed."
Slim Charles: "Game's the same, just got more fierce."

IaaS Platforms and Services
  1. Amazon EC2 
  2. Rackspace Cloud Servers
  3. GoGrid
  4. Terremark IaaS
  5. VCE Vblock
  6. FlexPod
  7. VMware vCloud Director
  8. HP Converged Infrastructure / Blade Matrix
  9. Dell vStart
  10. OpenStack (open-source)
  11. Eucalyptus (open-source)
  12. Nimbula
  13. Cloud.com (open-source)
  14. Open Nebula (open-source)
PaaS Platforms and Services
  1. Google App Engine
  2. AWS Elastic Beanstalk
  3. Salesforce.com / Heroku
  4. Salesforce.com / VMforce (w/ VMware)
  5. Cloud Foundry (open-source)
  6. Microsoft Azure
  7. Joyent SmartDataCenter
  8. RedHat Openshift (open-source)
  9. CloudBees
  10. Bungee Connect
  11. IBM PaaS
SaaS Platforms and Services
  1. Google Apps
  2. Salesforce.com 
  3. Mozy, Crashplan, DropBox, Box.net, Carbonite, BackBlaze
  4. Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting
  5. Microsoft BPOS, Microsoft 365
  6. <1001 others than I've left off the list, so add your favorites here...>
Open-Source Projects
  1. Server Hardware - Open Compute
  2. Hypervisor - Xen and KVM
  3. Compute/Storage Stack (IaaS) - OpenStack, Eucalyptus, Cloud.com, Open Nebula
  4. Infrastructure - OpenFlow
  5. Application Platforms - Cloud Foundry, OpenShift
These lists alone aren't what makes Cloud Computing so complicated. Huh?!? That's a lot of choices, but choice isn't a terrible thing. Where it gets complicated is thinking about the options about vendor selection, commercial products vs. open-source, intelligence in infrastructure vs. intelligence in software, portability of applications between clouds, etc. This is where your heads starts to spin. 

So let's start looking at what changes for various people in the Cloud Computing value-chain:

CIO: Your job has probably never been more complicated than it is today. Your vendors/partners are engaging in coopetition like never before. The technology is changing incredibly fast and you're struggling to keep/grow internal talent. Plus your internal users are getting much smarter and may be looking for ways to avoid your services. External services are now available with completely new consumption models, but they also bring a new forms of risk that aren't very well understood yet. And all your colleagues are talking about "cloud projects" and you may not know exactly where to start, or expand. And the start-ups in your industry don't have the existing IT legacy to deal with, so they are approaching the use of IT in strategic ways that you've probably never dealt with before.

IT Operations: If you're like most IT organizations, you're spending 70-80% of your time and budget keeping the internal systems operational. That doesn't leave much time to deal with the pace of change coming from all these cloud offerings, but the CIO is still pushing you for it. So how do you find the funding? How do you find the right skills (internally, retrain, cross-train, externally)? If you're considering a Private Cloud, this might be worth a listen. The key is to start looking at the best practices of the Public Cloud operators ( herehere, here and here) and see what best-practices you can bring in-house (where it makes sense) and where external services might make more sense.

Server, Storage, Network teams: In the past, your world was challenging enough keeping up with all the technology, protocols, architectures, etc. Now the divisions between your groups are breaking down as virtualization technologies provide integration within platforms. Or maybe the emerging cloud stacks are abstracting functionality out of your hardware and moving it to application software. Some people look at this as an opportunity to broaden your skills and take a broader role as an "infrastructure specialist", while others believe that proliferating IT generalists is a bad idea.

Application Developers: Open-Source frameworks; the momentum of DevOps; infrastructure you can obtain with a credit-card and avoid IT bottlenecks. On the surface your world is looking pretty good because many of the barriers from your previous life (software licenses, IT operations, procurement delays, etc.) seem to be coming down. But not everything may be rosy. You've got to potentially design for external/public cloud infrastructure that may not be well understood. And maybe you'll design your applications to be portable between clouds? But you also have to consider new ways to audit applications and data, and potentially new ways to secure it and make applications highly-available.

Systems Integrators: Being able to integrate these complex systems, on-premise or off-premise, may become an even more valuable skill moving forward, especially if you're able to harness some of the open-source projects that allow you to add value. But is that currently your strength? Were you previously focused on solutions based on commercial vendor offerings? Are those vendors still using you as a primary channel, or are they looking to take customer business direct through their own clouds ( here, here, here, or  here)? Or should you be looking to partner with some of the existing Cloud providers for technology scale, and focus on localized relationships with customers?

Cloud Providers: We've already seen this space consolidating and changing quickly (Terremark/Verizon,  CenturyLink/Savvis, TimeWarner/Navisite) as well as outages that have customers questioning if they will deploy to public clouds. But they are moving quickly to roll-out new services and address demands from Enterprise and Government customers. Some are even pushing frameworks that could open up new innovation or undermine operational advantages. Each of them will need to decide if they want to provide commodity services, differentiated services, and which *aaS frameworks they need to support to drive customer demand. 

Application "Stores" and Cloud Ecosystems: We're all familiar with App Stores like iTunes or Android, but will independent Application Stores begin to emerge for applications built on open frameworks such as Cloud Foundry? Will we see greater expansion of the services available from existing Cloud providers such as Salesforce.com, Google Apps or others to entice customers not to make themselves overly portable?

IT Vendors: Software stacks and open-source projects are knocking at your door, threatening to disrupt the foundation of businesses built on hardware platforms and commercial software offerings. Will these macro-level trends simply create downward pressure on margins vs. open-source alternatives, or does this spur a new wave of innovation that interacts with these new models in ways to balance the flexibility with stability and investment? Do your customers want solutions based on these newer models, which also changes their internal skills and buying models? Should you hedge your bets by setting up Cloud services directly, or do you continue your existing go-to-market approaches? How do you manage coopetition in partnerships where every vendor appears to be moving into 2 or more adjacent technology markets than they were in a few years ago? 

As you can see, the potential for significant change in the overall value chain between technology providers, technology delivery mechanisms and technology consumers is extremely high. It has the potential to significantly change existing business models, but it's also highly dependent on a new set of skills emerging for operators, architectures and people in between.

But out of confusion comes opportunity if you're open to change and new ideas. We're just at the beginning of a significant change in our industry and how it effects business on many levels. How companies (vendors, providers, integrators and business consumers) navigate these changes and confusion will determine the winners and losers of the next 5-to-10-to-20 years in the IT space.

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