Cloud Cloud Cloud! Everybody is talking about cloud. Why? Interesting to note that the term was first coined from IT diagrammatic representations of their networks, where their whiteboard configuration diagrams linked locations together with a 'cloud'.
Back then, like everything else in today's world; cloud is nothing new.
Rewind to the late 1970's, where mainframes roamed the earth. Where cars had 8 track, quadraphonic audio systems (millennials you can look that up on wikipedia if you need to). A time where 64K (yes K) memory was more than enough for programs to operate within and we have our first instance of 'the cloud'.
This was the time of bureau computing services, most noticeably around payroll applications, running on Sperry / Burroughs Mainframes. Back then computing was expensive, and I mean very very expensive, and the need for automated transaction engines was minimal outside of financial institutions and government. And let's face it. A payroll system is a payroll system. There is not much in the way of deviation between industries, clients or even countries in this area, save taxation and pay determination rules. It therefore made sense for organisations who wanted to automate their payroll services, to leverage the services of a bureau to do so, and pay for that small amount of computing time they needed. In today's terms, they were consuming Software as a Service or SaaS.
Moving a bit further along the time line and the Darwinism evolutionary scale saw the growth of departmental computers, and eventually the spawning of a new type of consumerism with the Personal Computer.
Now, electronic devices where spreading throughout organisations, and the IT departments flourished as organisations attempted to consistently maintain disparate systems and associated data formats in a world where standards were only just starting to evolve. Microsoft released their first version of Windows, the Apple Lisa was revolutionary, cars now had Cassette Players and then actually CD Players (now the Millennials are nodding their head) and cell phones were starting to make a presence.
Enter the era of the 'outsourcer'; the often transnational organisation that appeared on the scene, taking over the management of hardware, applications, data and even personnel from many organisations and government agencies. Through economies of scale, 'outsourcers were able to reduce existing costs and increase stability, but doing so at a expense of maintaining the status quo rather than evolving with new capabilities over time. In today's terms,outsourcers were offering “Private Cloud's”.
Hit the 'fast forward' button, jump into our “Tardis” and now we are in 2013.
Outsourcers still operate, but they have changed their name to "hosting organisations" offering 'Private Cloud' options – effectively having your applications and data operating on your own dedicated machines. What's changed? Not a lot. Benefits still revolve around reduction of costs and stability, and that stability is brought about by maintaining the status quo. By that I mean that any innovations are seen as a variation to the original contract and will incur additional costs. Flexibility and innovation being the pay off.
Likewise Bureau Services still operate today, but they are now called “Cloud Providers” and rather than offering applications such as payroll as a service, they provide access to a myriad of other applications that have been encapsulated in an electronic world. And just as they did in the 1970's these Software as a Service capability can provide tangible benefits to organisations who are seeking generic type services. The key word here being 'generic' as economies of scale are inexplicitly linked to the provision of 'generic' services.
So what am I getting at.
Let me summarise this in three main points.
Cloud Based, Software as a Service such as email and the like can provide cost effective generic services. The emphasis here is upon generic.
Private Cloud offerings can similarly, often provide cost savings through economies of scale, but these cost savings are achieved through surrendering the ability to innovate without incurring additional costs.
Efficiency gains do not equate to effectiveness, or to put it bluntly, saving dollars doesn't mean you work smarter or better. Reducing costs yet still following bad business practices will not be fixed by moving to a cloud based model. If you are currently drowning in a stream of email, moving your mail to a cloud provider will not change that situation. Cost effective through providing generic services, yes. Improving effectiveness through moving to more productive forms of communication and collaboration, no. All a move to the cloud does for many, is simply shift the problem and save you money in still doing the wrong things
Funny thing. For some reason my high school English springs to mind when writing this (sincere apologies to my former teachers and Mr William Shakespeare as well)
To cloud, or not to cloud: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The fixes and upgrades of on premise solutions,
Or to take arms against the drive for cost reduction,
And by opposing be seen as? Old: Inflexible
No more; and by inflexible to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand help desk calls
That IT is heir to, having users drowning in email.
Devoutly to be wish'd. To help them;
To help: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that dream of moving people beyond email
And into more productive ways of collaboration
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes us come to work each day;