Cloud is red hot. You can’t attend a conference or take two steps out of your house without hearing something about cloud computing. It isn’t a shocker, as the concepts behind Cloud form a compelling argument for the way business needs to be run. It lets anyone, regardless of upfront spend and infrastructure, be a potential ‘robber baron‘ like the 19th Century Rockefellers and Gettys, but without masses of workers and railroad tracks.
Just how fast is it growing? Cap Gemini in Where Business meets Cloud, claims that 78% of their survey’s respondents are focusing on new applications for Cloud adoption. Those are enormous numbers and have emerged out of just a few years of hype to show that Cloud is here, not just a hot topic.
Clouds on the horizon?
So why are there clouds on the horizon? Because companies can’t simply flip a switch and create an entirely new architecture without great risk and disruption to ongoing business. Since computerization started decades ago, there have been what IDC’s Frank Gens refers to as three platforms for technology development. Distilling his thoughts down, the first platform was Mainframe and terminals, the second was client-server and PC’s, and the third is the blend of social, big data, cloud and delivered as apps on mobile devices.
Gens is spot on and that’s the problem for Cloud. The fundamental challenge is a platform one. If many businesses still operate mainframe systems (they do), and everyone runs client/server systems (they also do), there’s simply no way to re-platform without taking a deliberate and measured approach. Unless there’s an overwhelming driver for wholesale change, businesses tend to be pragmatic about changing out what’s working.
So what to do?
That doesn’t mean it has to be a slow change. Competing on the ‘3rd Platform’ involves being able to blend the value, scalability and flexibility Cloud offers with the functionality and we-already-bought-it-and-it-works of on-premise systems. That involves being able to choose Cloud applications carefully so that a symbiotic ecosystem is under construction instead of something even more difficult to manage and measure.
It isn’t just about choosing carefully. Cloud computing tends to lock customers into the limited functionality of a Salesforce.com or other platform. This isn’t the same game as the client-server days, where anything could be constructed to a particular business need and people expected highly custom functionality. Cloud applications in existence today don’t offer unlimited functionality as part of their value.
The trick with Cloud is to choose carefully but to also ensure that what being used can be integrated so that employees and customers aren’t the victims of what seemed like a good idea on paper. That, for now, is a bigger challenge than many people realize.