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Please Stop Saying 'Cloud'

Okay, we need a serious dose of reality here. I just finished a customer engagement where the company's IT director, in no uncertain terms, told me that his company was having nothing to do with "the cloud." I nodded, and asked why. Turns out he'd recently attended a tech conference, where the keynote address (according to him) was basically summed up as, "no company is going to outsource their IT to the cloud." He agreed that outsourcing his IT was a bad idea, and so no cloud for him.

Sigh.

I blame the IT marketing sub-industry for this. Let's start by agreeing to never use the term "cloud" again. They co-opted that term from the telecommunications industry anyway, and the term makes a lot more sense there because nobody is going to run their own telecom infrastructure unless they are a telecom company.

What folks routinely refer to as the "cloud" in the IT industry is actually something very different. It's a huge variety of services and approaches, all of which offer to let you outsource some portion of your IT capabilities – things you might normally handle yourself, in your own datacenter. This is hardly a new concept: I've had a "cloud e-mail" address (it ends in yahoo.com) for close to a decade, now. I've been using "cloud computing" (a Web hosting service) for just as long. The idea of outsourcing bits of your IT environment to an offsite service provider is well-established; it's only recently that everyone suddenly wants it to be called "the cloud."

The only thing new in the more modern outsourcing model is the idea of on-demand provisioning and pay-as-you-go. My old-school Web hosting provider charges me a fixed fee every month; with a true "cloud" hosting arrangement, my fee might shrink and grow as more people visited my Web site. The site would dynamically expand and shrink to accommodate demand (or, in some instances, I could manually provision more resources to accommodate demand), and I'd pay for what I was using.

Saying that your company will never outsource your IT capabilities is fine. Most companies won't outsource everything, because it doesn't make any sense whatsoever. But that's not what this "cloud" model is all about. The idea is that you outsource the bits that make sense for your organization, creating a "hybrid IT" environment where some services come from your datacenter, and others come from offsite. In fact, I really prefer the term "hybrid IT" over "cloud," because I think it more accurately describes what the model is all about.

Take e-mail: Some companies could never, ever, ever outsource their e-mail. I get it. You need to have direct control to maintain your security, your availability, whatever. Fine. Other companies, however, view e-mail as a serious pain in the you-know-what, and would give anything to have it "just work." Those companies should outsource their e-mail, creating a hybrid IT environment where some services come from outside the company. Those same companies might well continue to handle their own in-house applications, databases, and so forth, because they need to in order to achieve their business goals. In other words, you outsource what makes sense. Often, that includes IT services that aren't crucial to the day-to-day operation of your company, that don't directly tie into what your business does for a living, and that cause you more stress and headaches in terms of keeping them up and running every day.

That's the other thing: People keep pitching "the cloud" as a way to save money. I call "foul" on that, because I've rarely seen it to be true. What hybrid IT does offer, however, is a way to remove some distractions. Don't want to spend months deploying a CRM solution, and then spend hundreds of man-hours a year supporting it? Fine, use SalesForce.com. Outsource that one distracting bit that your organization needs but doesn't directly want to own. That's hybrid IT. You might not save money either way, but you'll have less headache.

Please don't think for an instant that your company, for whatever reason, won't ever outsource anything to "the cloud." You will, eventually. In fact, a smart decision maker will keep his or her eyes open for the opportunities that make sense.

What do you think? Let Don know by adding your comment to this article, e-mail him here, or follow him on twitter @concentrateddon.

Posted by Don Jones on 04/13/2011 at 9:03 AM


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