Opinion

Column: Fatal Assumptions. The cloud meets science fiction

Imagine if all these terrible global warming projections come true, and we're forced to up sticks and move to another planet.

Naturally, the locals won't be happy, so we'll have to string them along for a while until it's too late for them to get their world back.

Sounds easy doesn't it? GREE already makes an alien invasion simulation game you can play on your mobile, so we should be familiar with the moves. And yet and yet...this whole issue worries me enormously. I mean, how do we put a positive spin on our destruction of their world? 

We could do worse than to copy some of the tactics used by the cloud computing lobby. They've been brilliant at assuaging fears and telling people what they want to hear. Nobody wants to listen to that nameless fear we have about abandoning a perfectly good environment, because if you give it too much thought the prospects are horrifying.

It's far easier to sleep if we make some comforting assumptions about how great life will be in the new regime. 

However, Charles Davis, CEO of The SAS Group, is one of those cloud skeptics who refuses to let me rest in peace. He's pointed out five assumptions about cloud computing that we all need to question. Thanks, mate. If you can bear to read on, here they are:

Assumption 1. Buying from Cloud means you don't need networking people any more.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that all a company needs now is application engineers. Davis doesn't agree. "Are you sure about that? Would you be happy to leave everything to third parties? Wouldn't that mean that, in future, you might not have any control over your IT strategy? Are you happy with that? The cloud operators would have to be really trustworthy. How many would you trust with your life?" asks Davis. Sounds like a troublemaker already.

Assumption 2. You can buy applications off the shelf.

Well yes, you probably can, but there's a massive leap of faith there that all the applications will be perfectly interoperable. To test the veracity of this particular theory, ask yourself how often you have to send, or request, an Office document in a different format. After decades of using Office applications we haven't achieved perfect compatibility yet. So why should this state of affairs happen overnight in the cloud computing industry, Davis asks. I bet you any money he's one of these cloud computing deniers. You know the type.

Assumption 3. Operating costs will be more predictable.

In theory, cloud computing will be more affordable because it stops IT from being a difficult, painful volatile capital expenditure and converts it into a helpful, compliant and reliable operating cost.

Now, I'm sure these cloud apps will look beautiful. But so will the Devil when he revisits earth. "How likely is it that, once you take on one of these new systems, the initial costs you expected become the tip of the iceberg?" says Davis. 

We all know what he's alluding to, don't we? Client server. Remember how client server ended up costing 10 times as much to manage.  Yeah, very clever.

Assumption 4. Cloud providers will offer a differentiator. 

(At this point, Mr Davis seems to have moved onto sarcasm, so I will paraphrase what I think he said)

Offer a differentiator will they? That's jolly decent of them, to go to all that trouble, isn't it? Are you sure you don't mind, Mr Cloud Operator, I mean it must be really eating into your profit margins, giving me all this value added service.

You'll end up feeling sorry for them. Until one day, out of guilt, you'll end up saying to your cloud service provider: "No, no, don't mind me. Go ahead and give me a vanilla service like everyone else. I'll work something out at my end."

Except you won't be able to. Because when you put the phone down, you'll remember that you sacked all the networking engineers.

Assumption 5. The cloud will be manageable

"I'm not convinced it will be manageable somehow," says Davis. You won't be able to see everything that goes on in your cloud, he argues.
 
Which - if correct - is ironic, because network management has just evolved to the point where vendors like SolarWinds and RiT (with CenterMind) can give a better perspective on your network than ever. 

Meanwhile, with your cloud service, there will be whole areas that are screened off. Finding a problem will be like looking for a needle in a haystack, where much of the haystack isn't visible or accessible.

Well, if you ask me, I don't know what to think now. I'm sure cloud computing will be just fine. And if it all goes wrong, we can always move to another planet. That'll be just as easy.

This was first published in February 2012

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