How Well Has Cloud Computing Weathered 15 Years Of Marketing Hype?

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky's and Moe's Southwestern Grill).

I am sick and tired of all the hype associated with cloud computing. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. This concept is not new news. Having someone else manage critical business and IT processes has been around as long as IT. I understand that "cloud computing" sounds a whole lot sexier than "software as a service," "managed hosting" or "virtual servers," but that doesn't mean the offerings are any better. A rose by any other name still has thorns.

In the mid-1990s, you could implement a Web application on a shared server at an Internet service provider (ISP). You would get all the benefits of a "powerful computing package" and "pre-installed" applications without the fuss and muss of buying your own equipment and installing your own software. Sure, you were limited in the functionality you could implement, but it was software in the cloud.

In the early 2000s, implementing your applications at a "managed service provider" was in vogue. Unlike the service offerings at ISPs, this service actually came with IT people who could manage a more complex set of applications. "Don't hire an expensive database administrator, simply rent some time with our guy and get all the benefit at a fraction of the cost."

In the mid-2000s, it was all about "software as a service" (SaaS). Not only could you rent your servers and your IT team, but you could also rent the application. No more pesky software license bills when you started a project. Sure, these applications came with some built-in business processes. But they almost never met the needs of your company, so you were going to have to pay someone to make the software work for you. Still, you didn't have to lay out any cash upfront.

Now it's all about "cloud computing." Depending on who you talk to, cloud computing is one or all of the other prior service definitions rolled into one. You can get raw infrastructure if you want (virtual server); you can get that server supported (managed hosting); or you can literally rent the applications (SaaS). Whoopdie doo! But hey, it sounds much cooler than software as a service, so I guess the cloud has that going for it.

I recently attended a Microsoft Conference, and it seemed like all the presenters had been pulled into a room before the meeting and given strict orders: "You must mention 'cloud computing' once every 5 minutes of the presentation or you will be fired." That kinda reminds me of that funny Hitler cloud computing video.

I'm not saying I don't think cloud computing has an important role in IT organizations.I'm not saying I don't think cloud computing has an important role in IT organizations. As I have mentioned before, I think there are some significant franchise IT applications. I also believe that, if done right, SaaS has a role to play in extending IT's ability to meet business needs. But I am saying I am sick and tired of hearing about cloud computing in every single industry communication I read these days.

The other consideration is that many organizations look at cloud computing through rose-colored glasses. Just because it is this super-mega-redundant system with a bazillion certifications doesn't mean you aren't still going to experience issues. Yes, I will agree it is going to be much, much more cost effective to implement high-availability approaches within a cloud environment than it would be in a small-to-midsize business. Still, technology fails. The more technology you implement to protect you from failure, the more complex the system is and the more there is to fail.

For example:

  • Amazon's cloud service had an outage in January 2010.
  • Microsoft Azure had a 22-hour outage in March 2009.
  • Rackspace had multiple cloud outages in 2009.

Again, perspective is important. All those outages tagged together were less than my outages for the same period of time, and my systems are far less complex but just as critical. I know for a fact my systems were not as robust as theirs.

But you also have to consider that when working with cloud computing providers, they are not you. You need to change the way you manage your IT infrastructure. The IT role changes from managing technologies to managing vendors for a living. As we all know, not all IT people are cut out for such a role. That means you have to hire differently, you have to think differently, and you have to act differently.

And that is really the root of the problem. People seem to think that because this new term is "hot," all the challenges have somehow gone away. Ask all those people who previously used a managed service provider and are now using a cloud provider (and haven't changed anything) exactly how much better things are.

On a side note, how is it that the term "cloud computing" came to be? Granted, it's better than all its predecessors. But a cloud is about the most unstable thing I can think of. It moves whichever way the wind is blowing; it may disappear; it may become a terrible storm. Exactly what marketing genius is responsible for this term catching on?

I'd love to your point of view. Has there been a real change or is it just new marketing spin? Leave comments below, E-mail me or reach out on Twitter (@todd_michaud).

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