TMCnet Feature
June 22, 2011

The Cloud 'From Both Sides Now' - Cisco, IBM, Intel, Apple et al and You!

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Joni Mitchell  (written on March 9, 1967 on an airplane after reading “Henderson the Rain King!” by Saul Bellow)

The Eight “Cs” Revisited

Not sure if I am a newbie or dinosaur when it comes to all things re: “The Cloud.”  Following Joni’s advice, I’ve looked at clouds and not just from up and down. As a result, it really is “cloud illusions I recall/I really don’t know clouds at all.” But, within the context of the 8 deadly “Cs” described below, I am trying.

When there is a paradigm shift in the marketing jargon in any industry, I always look to the mass consumed media to see what “thought leaders” and “market movers” are saying to burnish their message into our collective consciousness.

Hence, I present links to the following cloud commercials on YouTube (News - Alert) from no less than Cisco , IBM, Intel and Apple. (Please return after viewing or refrain clicking until you are done reading). These are not bad and certainly slick explanations. And, while I may take issue or umbrage with some of this, I continue to be disappointed with the lack of civility in some of the comments that disapprove.

To be frank, this feels like, as Yogi Berra says, “déjà vu all over again.” If The Cloud at its heart represents removing much of the complexity of utility/utilitarian technology from customer sight and concern by putting it onto a shared resource, then pardon my befuddlement. Why is it being hyped as a revolutionary game changer? My history-based frame of reference includes, for instance:

  • Centrex. In the 1960s the old AT&T (News - Alert) (aka “Ma Bell”) started offering Centrex service to its largest customers. For those too young to remember or who are not familiar, Centrex provided customers dumb phones but the ability to access sophisticated features from their local central office (CO). As telephone networks evolved, several thousand features were developed for COs that were sliced and diced in a variety of ways for customers large and small. Hum! Hosted apps/services delivered from a shared computing platform.
  • Shared Space Computing. I remember sitting in a remote computer lab at the University of Texas, killing Klingons playing Star Trek on a CRT terminal attached by cable to TAURUS, UT’s mainframe. An oddity that morphed into the Internet was in gestation. It started in 1969 as an experimental way the U.S. Department of Defense and several universities developed to create a cost-efficient, decentralized, widely distributed electronic communications network for linking research centers. It was called ARPANET, after its sponsoring agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). In the early 1970s, two computer time sharing services, Tymshare and Telenet (joined quickly by others) went commercial. The goal was to give business customers the type of access enjoyed under ARPANET. The advent of packet switching and adoption by important enterprises of the TCP/IP protocol helped make the market. These were early “cloud” services.

I raise this history not just to demonstrate that, to draw on another cliché, what is old is new again. The reason is to emphasize that while the technology for shared resource computer networking is an incredible and dynamic modern marvel —with things we now take for granted like email, voicemail, IM, YouTube, all of the social networks, and the explosion of e-commerce capabilities — there are fundamental issues/challenges that have been around since computers started to be attached to networks that remain germane in looking at clouds and just how revolutionary they may be.

Posited for your consideration are eight “Cs.” Whether Clouds — public, private or hybrid — are a ninth remains literally and figuratively up in the air.

  1. Connectivity — It seems to me the implementation of standards throughout all layers of the stack, and nothing inherent in The Cloud, improves connectivity. However, at least the public cloud increases network reach. Whether it will do so in private and hybrid networks is a matter of network administrators’ development and enforcement of policies and rules.
  2. Communications — Once connected, intelligible information exchange (be it voice, data, video, real-time or time-shifted) needs to occur. Again, The Cloud can and should, by increasing reach, enrich the population of types of activities and number of users who can partake of them.
  3. Consistency — Another way of saying a common user experience that can be shared everywhere, every time, on all devices, at the right time, in the right way. I call this the effect. While we are still struggling with this on the web, things are getting better. The HDTV experience on iPhones is not too shabby.
  4. Community — So long as there is net neutrality on how classes of users have access to various resources, Clouds appear to be neutral.
  5. Continuity — Meaning not just in the sense of creating accessible histories for archival and analytic purposes, but also in the context of business continuity, i.e., survivability. Here, by offloading much of the cost (see below) associated with data storage and the need for replication, Clouds of all types can be extraordinarily useful.
  6. Commerce — A “keen grasp of the obvious” one since more is more. The Internet is the first generation multiple media cloud and without it, especially with even the flawed-though-they-may-be protections from bad actors, there would be no e-commerce.
  7. Cost — I am waiting for the online calculator that allows for true apples-to-apples comparisons about the fully-loaded and amortized costs of switching from license fees to pay as you go consumption of software apps and services. I need to be convinced. Let’s call it the “pies in the skies.” A nice subset of this is charging, as in “how much will I be charged and for what?”
  8. Control —AKA the deal breaker:
    1. Who will control the data?
    2. What happens when a cloud vendor goes down physically or financially?
    3. How much control over the dynamic administration of me or my company’s policies and rules do I have?
    4. How safe is my data from hacking, invasions of privacy or unauthorized use?
    5. What protections do I have from creeping cost syndrome, i.e., what airlines do to continually find new and exciting ways to charge?
    6. What about breach of contract?
    7. What about liability in case of a hack?
    8. Other. Many others.

Cut to the chase. The last two items are really what the business imperative about The Cloud is about.

Early in my career, as a representative of the PBX (News - Alert) industry, I was engaged to fight the tariff of AT&T’s proposed “Advanced Communications Service” — which we argued would be the demise of the competitive PBX industry as all value-added was sucked into the AT&T network “cloud” to be paid by the drink, as I remember. When we were presenting our argument about where intelligence would lie in the future and who would pay for what, a high-ranking government official said the following: “The answer to the question as to where intelligence will lie is YES!”

He went onto say that who would pay, for what, when, where, why and how was a business decision. It was one the market would decide based on the perception of received value. Vendors who figured out and reacted to user desires would succeed. Those who did not would fail. Smart devices and smart networks -- yes even Clouds -- can/should/will coexist and flourish. Those who divine the permutations and combinations that buyers want, and can demonstrate the differentiated value of their execution in the market win. Can I hear an AMEN!

Consideration of the hype versus reality of Clouds in the context of the “Cs” led to the realization that I have known clouds my entire professional career, yet really don’t know clouds at all. However, as stated, I am trying.

I look to guidance from you our readers to make sure that Clouds allow me be “walking on sunshine.”

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel (News - Alert), France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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