Clearing the Cloud Part 2: The Cloud Is an Evolution, not a Revolution
Part of what frustrates me about "the cloud" is that it isn't anything entirely new. There are really only two major things that are driving this new wave of cloudiness in IT:
Multi-tenancy. Software vendors are now offering products that have a built-in understanding that multiple customers will be sharing the same infrastructure. The software thus builds walls between those customers, so they each feel as if they have a service dedicated to them. Service providers have been doing this for years by hacking together custom management consoles -- Web hosts being the leader in doing so. The cloud has taken off in large part because the first-party vendors are now building that intelligence into their products.
Bandwidth. The wide availability of cheap bandwidth -- both wired and wireless, including cell-based bandwidth -- means it's easier and easier to get to your data and services regardless of where it lives. In the past, we used dial-up to get everywhere. It made sense to dial into your company's datacenter, so it made sense to keep all of your services there. Nowadays, you're using the public Internet as your "dial-up." That means you're always on the Internet, and then you use it to reach your data. So your data might as well live anywhere, not just in your company datacenter. Security issues aside, there's no connectivity reason to keep data in the datacenter.
It's the confluence of these two directions that's making the cloud (a) possible and (b) attractive. Ten years ago it was ridiculous to think of outsourcing your Exchange or SharePoint services to someone else; today, it's a question of cost, security and availability -- but it's certainly not a ridiculous question.
For an extreme example, take Microsoft's Windows Azure platform. I'm obviously oversimplifying in the extreme, but Azure is (on paper) a hacked-up version of Windows and SQL Server designed for multi-tenancy. Toss in the ubiquitous availability of Internet bandwidth, and Azure becomes positioned for success. Amazon, Google and other cloud computing options are, at their heart, much the same: Always-on, easily-accessible, multi-tenant services that you could build in your own data center, if you wanted to. But why bother?
There's a third factor that really clinches the cloud deal:
Bargaining. Computing resources have become so cheap that bulk purchases are practically pocket change. Amazon doesn't buy servers one at a time, it buys them by the truckload, and it's getting a per-unit price that's astonishingly low. It buys electricity in bulk, too, often positioning datacenters close to the electrical grid and negotiating transmission rates down to comparatively nothing. Thus, the price that a cloud host like Microsoft or Amazon can offer you is markedly lower than you could ever buy yourself.
This is really just good old Moore's Law taken to an extreme. These three points simply prove that the cloud isn't some revolutionary new tactic; it's just a natural evolution of different lines of thinking and technology, finally coming together in what is quite frankly an almost inevitable conclusion.
In case you missed it:
Posted by Don Jones on 02/08/2012 at 9:28 AM