Dark Clouds Ahead? A Warning About Cloud Computing

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

Cloud Computing is here, and it is somewhat of a revolution. It brings many benefits to our organizations – the obvious economic, but it also frees us up to focus on core business, as defined today. If managing infrastructure isn’t our core activity, then let’s not do it, right?

All the in-crowd on the web are buzzing about Cloud Computing. 2009 is hailed as the year of the Cloud, as recession bites forcing IT leaders to source infrastructure services from remote vendors and reducing expense and capital requirements. Here are two informative examples on bmighty which talks a lot about Cloud:



It sounds like a dream state, don’t it?

Well not if we consider the long-term implications. By sourcing infrastructure from the cloud, you’re really taking, or forcing, a commodity approach . To gain economies of scale (the economies you’re looking for and demand) vendors have to commoditize the infrastructure, in other words, make the service standard and equal across their customers (notwithstanding any standard variations or special amendments that come at a price.)

Essentially, we’re giving up our intimacy with the operations and mechanics of the infrastructure – it becomes a black box to us. What happens is that we lose the knowledge and wisdom on how to build and maintain the infrastructure ourselves.

Who cares? I get it cheaper… and I need cheap right now!

Yes, we’re all thinking that way right now. Right Now . But what about After? Once the recession ends and growth is a word we can begin to use again, what is the landscape then?

We don’t get our toys back, that’s for sure! You know as I do, things move on and the compound of many small innovations results in big change. We lost the intimacy now, we lose it forever. And even if we could muster our own internal revival of building and maintaining the infrastructure, it’s very doubtful we could do it as economically, so the CFO wouldn’t back our caper.

Pah! So What? You might say…. but just consider the possibility that your management of infrastructure, your innovations using it, and how you blend infrastructure into product development and operations actually creates a unique business proposition – lose it and weep. Or perhaps retaining control means you retain independence, and you’ve developed kick-ass negotiation skills with vendors – do you want to dilute these skills. Or lets say that your organization is rapidly growing into new territories that vendors can’t/won’t provide the same level of support – is that likely?

In revolutions, heads roll . Heed my warning that Cloud Computing is very likely a one-way road over the Sahara Desert…

Once you source from the cloud, you will never regain it as a core competence.

I am not against Cloud, if you were wondering. In fact I think it is essential for the future of IT and business. It’s not viable to run activities as crafts and cottage industries anymore. Business must be lean and stitch its organization together from the very best of experts and services.

I could draw analogies to the outsourcing of manufacturing to China. The West outsourced… gave China the knowledge (designs, tools, etc)… and then surprise surprise – a shift in Chinese Foriegn Policy and they’re poised to become the dominant power and economy on this planet!

Foot Note: Eric Brown, fellow blogger, often reports interesting stories like this one about Cloud Computing. If you haven’t subscribed to his RSS Feed , do it today!

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5 thoughts on “Dark Clouds Ahead? A Warning About Cloud Computing”

  1. Simon – one of the best quotes I’ve read on the power (danger) of cloud computing:

    “Once you source from the cloud, you will never regain it as a core competence.”

    That is one concern I have as well. If you outsource all your email admin to google apps, what happens a few years down the road when you want to bring it back in? Can you bring it back in? Are the tools available to get your cloud email into a non-cloud system? Do you have the resources to get it back and manage it?

    Great stuff!
    PS – thanks for the link!

  2. I agree with this Simon. We should treat Cloud the same as Outsourcing as that is what it really is. If we outsource a core activity then we can never expect to get it back and worse still we are then at the mercy of the vendor to continue core operations. Tread with caution, I say!

  3. @Eric – glad you liked the quote. I think this is truly the case. As Asif said, cloud is a ‘cleaner’ word for outsourcing, so it must be treated with the same management caution.

    The questions you ask will be the key questions on cloud consumers over the next few years, I’ll bet. I do hope they’re asked before, rather than after, whole-scale infrastructure changes.

  4. Hi Simon, hope you are well. This is a really interesting piece and does make me reassess my initial excitement about cloud computing.

    I have read a lot of good pieces about the dangers of cloud computing over the past year or so but in 2009, which you yourself say will see more businesses turning to the money savings provided by the cloud, this post is a timely reminder of its potential pitfalls.

    Of course the applications of the cloud are varied and in many cases provide new opportunities for communication and development adding value to some business services. Therefore one could argue that unlike outsourcing, companies can develop new expertise by engaging with these technologies.

    1. @Josh – well it’s a great compliment to know it’s given you reason to think about the risks of Cloud Computing. Every instance and organization is different, of course, but whether we’re professionally responsible for infrastructure, or just have something to say about the matter, I think it’s good to get a different view.

      Interestingly, nobody as yet has made a counter-argument.

      I am sure there is one…

      Thanks for your comment!

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