Thinking about “The Cloud”

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Thanks, Scott, for the warm welcome to Conformity’s Blog universe.  I’ve been at Conformity for just about a month now, and I’ve been appointed (is there an opposite of disappointed?) at the excitement around the space, the quality and dedication of the team, and the interest in “our problem” (identity in the cloud) by customers and prospects.

Of course, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past, say, 10 years, you’ve no doubt heard that Cloud Computing (or On-Demand before that or ASP’s before that or Grid’s even before that) will solve everything from bad breath and world hunger to global warming and peace in our time.  While many of the developments are truly exciting, what we today call Cloud Computing should have been expected as an obvious trend from a whole collection of trends that have led up to it.

Why?  Because every advanced endeavor ultimately evolves into increasingly smaller and focused areas of specialization, where we (as individuals or business units or corporations) pay someone else to do things we’re either too busy, too inexperienced, or too lazy to do ourselves.

I suspect few of you reading this now actually grow your own vegetables.  It’s not that you can’t, mind you, since it’s not all that hard.  But farmers and grocery stores and the whole infrastructure behind the process of getting lettuce and carrots into the trunk of my car do it faster, cheaper, and better than I can (or am willing to – I do have small children, after all).

Historically, providing whatever computing services businesses large and small use in the course of their primary business activities has been difficult enough and expensive enough that these same businesses formed “IT Organizations” to provide those services for them (believing — largely correctly — that the IT group could do it faster, cheaper, and better than they could — an early and surprising enduring form of specialization).

No reason why this same process won’t happen again and again and again, with increasing segments of what has traditionally been the purview of what we now call an “on-premise” IT service being delivered by external entities that can perform more and more elements of what IT has traditionally done themselves, and with IT’s role evolving along the way.  With the introduction of a good enough transmission medium (the Internet), a good enough computing platform (LAMP stack, with or without virtualization), and sufficient consolidation, standardization, and economies of scale around certain business applications (e-mail, SFA, CRM, HR, etc), and *POOF* Cloud Computing and Cloud-based Applications are born.

The interesting news (and for companies like Conformity and our partners the good news) is that each of these forays into these areas of specialization come with their own technical and business challenges that must be solved along the way.  We, as technology professionals, get another chance to try to address long-standing questions around business process, pricing, ease-of-use, and the never-ending quest for a more efficient way to separate and distinguish between what Geoff Moore calls “core” versus “context”.

I won’t attempt to address the specifics of how we’ll be solving bad breath, world hunger, global warming, and peace in our time today (must leave something interesting to write about in future posts), but wanted to begin the dialog around what is and is not particularly new about Cloud Computing, what problems we might expect need to be solved (because they *are* different from what’s come before) and which problems are simply old wine in new bottles…

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