It’s clear that the technology industry is moving from the PC era to the cloud era in several significant ways. While cloud represents a new way for IT to deliver — and end users to consume — IT applications and services, this transition also represents a significant change in how applications, services and systems are defined. The move to cloud computing is the most important technology disruption since the transition from mainframe to client-server, or even since Al Gore invented the internet. While industry veterans like Oracle’s commander in chief declared it a fad, this is a decade-long trend that is here to stay, and one that will define the next generation of IT.
The movement itself has been in play for the last decade, however there continues to be a lot of (mis)information in the marketplace about the cloud. So much so that it is difficult for organizations to figure out what is real and what is not to help them develop a successful cloud strategy, or simply learn about technologies that have been specifically designed and purpose-built to meet this dramatic shift in technology. While it’s important to know what the cloud is, it’s just as important to separate the wheat from the chaff, and for IT to understand what cloud is not.
To this end, I encourage you not to add yet another definition of the cloud to your glossary, but to truly understand the top 5 things the cloud is not.
1. Cloud is not a place. People often talk about moving to the cloud as if they were moving to another city. But the cloud is not a place. In fact, the cloud can be anywhere, in your data center or someone else’s. Organizations that believe they are moving to a strategy that leaves legacy apps and systems behind are in for a rude awakening. The single most important way for enterprise organizations to prepare themselves for the cloud is to understand that the cloud is a radically new way of delivering, consuming and adopting IT services in a far more agile, efficient, and cost-effective manner, which will spread throughout the ether and be a mix of public, private, managed or hybrid clouds. By looking holistically at the cloud, organizations can optimize its benefits for their budgets, privacy needs, geographies and overall business needs.
2. Cloud is not server virtualization. Despite what many believe, and what many will tell you, the cloud is not the same as next-gen server virtualization. It doesn’t surprise me that many believe that by virtualizing their data center they will create a private cloud. Some vendors are intentionally trying to blur that line, aiming to convince customers that their vCenter clusters somehow deliver a private cloud. On the contrary, that is a gross exaggeration of the term cloud.
If you take a look at the way Amazon has built its cloud architecture, it becomes very clear that there are some fairly stark differences between a server virtualization environment and a true cloud architecture. While Amazon starts with Xen virtualization technology, the brains of its architecture comes with a new layer of software that Amazon built in an effort to create a new control plane, a new cloud orchestration layer that can manage all the infrastructure resources (compute, storage, networking) across all of their data centers. This is at the heart of the cloud’s technology disruption. Some analysts refer to this as the “hypervisor of hypervisors,” or a “new software category of cloud system software.”
The fact of the matter is that some of the major players are doing cloud without server virtualization. Take Google for example. They have deployed a cloud architecture that is not using server virtualization, but rather a bare metal infrastructure. So while virtualization can be an important ingredient of cloud, it is not always a requirement.
3. Cloud is not an island. Depending on what you’re reading, you’ll hear a lot about public clouds versus private clouds, and it may feel as if enterprises must make a wholesale decision on which way to go. But the cloud is not an island, it is not a place where you put all of your IT services, and then lose all interconnectivity and access. The recent Amazon outages have proven this to be an important point for any organization leveraging the cloud. The right cloud strategy will be one that enables you to have a hybrid approach with the ability to easily connect private and public clouds. Even the recent move by NASA to include Amazon Web Services as part of its cloud rollout after a significant investment in the build-out of its own technology proves that the market is moving to open, interoperable multi-cloud environments.
4. Cloud is not top-down. The cloud has up-ended the traditional IT approach to delivering services. The lines of business have been leading the charge in making the decision to move to cloud computing. With specific needs to get to market quickly, functional business leaders are consuming cloud services to avoid traditional IT processes. But we don’t need surveys to clarify this movement. The reality is that with the simple swipe of a credit card and the creation of an account, end users can gain instant access to infinite pools of IT resource to help test out a new idea, get their job done or even become more agile in their daily work. This is part of why this revolution is so powerful. The Consumerization of IT is driving this new movement. Users are already there and the C-level offices are just now trying to catch up with them. Those that embrace this move sooner rather than later will learn how to use the cloud as a strategic weapon before their competitors do. So the cloud is not top down, but rather a bottoms-up phenomenon.
5. Cloud is not hype. As I started this piece, I wrote about the (mis)information that has flooded the market and slowed progression and adoption of the cloud for some organizations. I’ve spoken with people in many organizations who are still skeptical of the cloud and believe that it is something that is very far off into the future. No doubt there is a lot of noise in the market with many claiming early victory in the hearts and minds of developers, with open source momentum, or beta products. The reality is that the cloud is ready now, and Citrix has more than 100 organizations that are running clouds in production today. Companies like AutoDesk,, Nokia, Chatham Financial and others, already reaping the benefits.
My words of advice to companies considering a move to the cloud – learn from others who have already built highly scalable, successful clouds that have helped them transform the way they deliver and consume IT resources.
This is just the beginning of the discussion. There are many more topics that we will continue to talk about in the coming weeks, months, years (such as, cloud is not only an infrastructure and cloud is not just for service providers). All with the goal of helping organizations and the market understand what the cloud is and what it is not.