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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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Reader Comments:

Sat, Oct 20, 2012

"Cloud" is the "synergy" of the modern age.

Fri, Sep 30, 2011 Abhinay

'Cloud' as a term is new thing and as you pointed out we are already using some cloud features as web-based email and in your daily life you can hire a taxi and you don't need to own a car.No need to buy a cow for few gallons of milk everyday :-)

Fri, May 13, 2011 Spork

LOL at Alex Dresko. Nothing is actually new about this is it? I really enjoyed this article and it's nice to see someone actually speak the truth instead of hiding behind buzzwords and acting as if they are backing some "new" thing that doesn't really exist or has actually already existed for a long time with a different name (thanks to Alex for clearing that one up for us!). The only complaint I have with the article is that you referenced a "new" feature of this so called cloud that you contributed to your hosting companies ability to expand dynamically your services based on demand. This should not be accredited to this silly little cloud buzzword, that's an ability of your hosting provider and has nothing to do with any "new" cloud model. Even if the cloud buzzword had never been invented, that's not to say your hosting company would never had come up with the ability do dynamically expand your services on demand. That's a feature of your hosting service, not the "cloud".

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 EVVJSK

Couldn't agree more on getting rid of the term "The Cloud" (as well as Software As a Service. Use "The Internet" or Hosting. I also agree that it should be considered a target approach and companies should evaluate what parts they MIGHT want to move there as opposed to assuming that everything should go there. I also agree that there probably won't be cost savings (unless you are paying someone too much to manage that part of your infrastructure already).

Tue, Apr 26, 2011 Alex Dresko

The new word is "Internet". Done.

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 Laughing Man

"yeah... Mr. CFO and CEO... we went to the conference and although our budget is out pacing our competitors we believe 'no' is the right answer to the cloud..."

Mon, Apr 18, 2011 TBone

Do we really need a name? How about calling it what it has always been called and going on as we always have? Software as a service I think is the more descriptive name. Or, IT as a service? I think the name could be whatever you are outsourcing. Email as a service, Office documents as a service. Cloud sounds like you send it to some magical land, it gets computed, then comes back to you in a nice little package.

Thu, Apr 14, 2011 Steven McGinnis Atlanta

Perhaps I skimmed too quickly, but what is the new name you are proposing??? Virtual... On Demand... web hosted?

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