Andrew Buss, originally published on CRN

Vendors are pushing cloud for all they are worth. And customers talk about it too, whether they understand what the word means or not.

Some claim cloud computing is the key to lower costs and increased flexibility. We also hear that cloud is about surrendering control, and exposing private information.

Some of what you hear is misleading, and even misinformed. Cloud is really quite a nebulous concept – if you will excuse the pun.

It seems that almost every ’cloud’ vendor has a different strategy.

Some are offering applications accessed over the internet or host custom applications in shared datacentres. Others specialise in highly automated and virtualised infrastructure to transform the datacentre. Some offer flexible, use-based pricing, while others prefer longer commitments or set resources.

The cloud computing vision is really the fulfilment of a long-talked-about but not quite realised concept: IT as a service. A combination of ‘cloudy’ ingredients, such as on-demand capacity, self-service setup, shared resource pools and service monitoring may construct what are widely called cloud services.

Many poster-child cloud-focused services, such as, are close to past visions of service-based IT, such as application service provision.

Vendors such as VMware want to make manual, internal IT provisioning into a dynamic process. VMware proposes that customers use virtualisation and automation extensively to create a ‘cloud computing environment’.

By default, this cloud environment is both internal and private. Even with no external services being consumed, this model is widely described as cloud computing.

The ultimate expression of cloud computing is for near-complete freedom to choose where a service may run. It may run locally in the datacentre, but as requirements change the workload could be moved or extended to another location.

This other location may be external to the company, and provided in a secure but shared facility, or even in a publicly accessible facility by a third party.

Customer perception

Cloud varies – but how it is perceived by customers is by far the most important thing. Some customers may not even require your approach to involve the word ‘cloud’, if all they care about are the attributes of a particular service.

Generally, we can split customer views into three main classes.

The first is that on-premise solutions are not generally considered cloud. So when vendors bang the ‘internal private cloud’ drum, it needs to be presented to the customer more in terms of application and infrastructure flexibility, without complicating the issue by talking cloud.

Second, customers do not view email, communication and collaboration tools as ‘cloud’ but more as ‘hosted services’. However, vanilla infrastructure capable of hosting a variety of applications, business tools, data or development environments are seen as cloud.

But the third and most important consideration in the customers’ eyes is that cloud services should offer freedom. They must be flexible, on-demand and with no ongoing commitment.

Ultimately, if you feel that you absolutely must talk about cloud to your target audience, it is worth avoiding defining it through services that are aggregated into ungainly artificial containers – such as fixed or pre-allocated resources, defined capacity, and especially longer-term fixed contracts.



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