What good is the cloud, really?

I need to ask you all to once again bear with me. I’m in recovery after a long weekend that involved camping, a friend’s Memorial Day picnic, and a nearly 150+ mile round trip to visit my wife’s ailing grandfather. All were examples of time VERY well spent, but I’m both physically and emotionally drained. But I won’t that stop me from rambling on about a topic I spent considerable time pondering over the weekend. What good is the cloud?

We’ve heard from the platform pundits and technical evangelists. The cloud will save us money. The cloud will be more flexible. Things will get to market faster. Manna will fall from heaven and dogs and cats will play together in fields of flowers. I realized in what goes for an epiphany in my small mind that we’ve heard all these before. And we’ve also be disappointed by these claims time and time again. Over the last few months I’ve spent a non-trivial amount of time reading about what the cloud has to offer. I’ve also invested a great deal of personal time learning how to use Microsoft’s Azure Services to making program code jump through several hoops. But with this epiphany, I realized there was one thing still missing. What would I really use it for.

Much of the available text on cloud computing focuses on new applications and/or products. Even more focuses on the various challenges that face anyone wanting to get into cloud computing. Be this security, privacy, ownership, accessibility, or pricing. What I want to start seeing more of is real problems facing businesses today and how the cloud will solve these problems either better then traditional methods or possibly where no traditional application could.

An example could be how to make portions of an on-premise SharePoint application visible to an application or user outside of your network without compromising it. While this is a problem that could be solved by traditional means, having a firewall friendly, externally accessible service bus as well as options for user authentication could help speed such a solution to delivery. What if you are in a situation where you have two different networks that need to be connected? Maybe you have a business intelligence process that needs to be run and takes awhile. it only has to be run once or twice a year and you’d rather not set aside hardware just for it that could then sit idle the rest of the year.

I think there are a large number of real world challenges businesses are facing. Challenges that Cloud Computing is uniquely poised to bring tremendous added value too. Instead of focusing on big pictures and hard to quantify cost savings, I’d really like to see more examples of situations that exist in today’s organizations that the cloud could help address.

I know these are out there. I’ve tossed up a couple I can think of. I know others have and are finding more of them each day. So its time to start hearing about them. These low hanging fruit will make a compelling arguments to help demonstrate to shrewd decision makers how the cloud can help add value. Without requiring them to make large long-term decisions.

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One Response to What good is the cloud, really?

  1. Dave says:

    This is a great question. The most salient use case I have come across is as follows: if you have a multi-server, scalable application system, then building a federated internal/external application environment through a combination of virtualization technology and cloud services can be extremely valuable. Here is the idea. You have an application and it runs in either your own data center or on leased systems within a hosting facility. You have a total of N systems that run the application (if it\’s a web application, then web servers and/or application servers; if it\’s something else, then some other parallelization). Now, most applications do not have a static level of usage – if nothing else, there is typically less usage at night and more during the day; and of course hopefully usage of the application is growing over time as well. Different companies land in different places on how they build out for peak vs. average load, but all such choices are sub-optimal (either you annoy/lose customers, or you waste resources some of the time – see the Berkeley Cloud Computing paper).If you could run this system on a compatible infrastructure based on virtualization technology (e.g., VMWare, Xen, Hyper-V, etc.) on the “owned/leased” servers, plus one or more cloud services, then you can find the “efficient frontier” of deployment between the operating cost vs. capital expenditure. This also works for firms that are currently deployed at their peak load but are growing, because they can grow into the efficient point.There are numerous mundane and annoying technical challenges with this solution, but the only one I know that is potentially fundamental is the issue of intra-system communication latency. If there is a central shared resource (such as a database), or a frequent many-to-many communication stream in the application, the performance cost of crossing data center boundaries could be prohibitive. Certain such applications could have custom remedies, but others might not.

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