Microsoft referred to us as “visionary” at a recent cloud seminar. That’s nice and we do have our moments; but right now I’m rather blurry.
A week or so ago I attended a CIO cloud workshop in London. I listened to a panel of CIOs from major companies in insurance, pubs and hotels, and from the public sector, talk about “cloud”. It was lucid but underwhelming. One is doing “private cloud” (and let’s be honest here, private cloud isn’t cloud at all: it’s (i) a commercial model, and/or (ii) a return to an ancient “buying time on the mainframe” model which the old have forgotten and the young never experienced) and the rest were saying “well yes it’s a good idea but…” I asked the panel whether they thought the Cloud Services Broker model had potential and, if so, when it might materialize. They didn’t even understand question. Rather embarrassed I explained what I was getting at, and the only response was from one panel member who thought that supplier lock-in made it improbable.
So a week later I tune into a Gartner webinar on Cloud Services Brokerage, and get presented with a whole architecture for supporting it, all kinds of reasons why it’s going to happen, and a long list of companies who are doing things that will shortly get us there.
Now as it happens, Replify is closely involved in a joint initiative to offer brokered cloud services. Still partly under wraps and more to come in a few weeks but some announcements have already sneaked out e.g. this and this. But having said that, I’m still very struck by the enormous gap between where the analyst’s heads have got to, and where the heads of people with big money to spend on IT services and applications have got to. I was also troubled by the fact that Gartner didn’t describe a single concrete instance of a brokered cloud service that I could believe in. I could put this down to analysts being on the bleeding edge, and the USA being ahead of EMEA in pushing the cloud model; that’s possible – it took me a while to figure out the whole SOA thing and conclude that some folks can make web services sound a million times grander than they really are. I genuinely do admire those that see the patterns and can explain in a compelling way what’s going to happen (or has already happened) but I also think we’re running, jumping tall buildings, and dodging bullets before we can walk.
Let’s keep it simple and make it work. Some Cloud Services are clearly commodities. Others may become commoditized. Commoditization may require third parties to develop layers of software which actually obscure the more advanced features of some offerings in order to create an equivalency that allows brokering. Some of these commodity services can be integrated to create larger offerings. WAN Optimization is surely a great candidate for one of these services – it has the huge advantage of being a service with very simple integration points i.e. you buy it, pipe your application traffic throught it, and pay for it. The level of optimization may vary and the reporting interface may vary (although there are some standard metrics like offload) but you could certainly envisage moving from one cloud WAN Optimization vendor to another if the price point changed. Storage, computing, documents and records management, search, email, web platforms are all high probability too. Maybe workflow/bpm, but only based on a simple subset of the capabilities of any mature workflow product today. So some of the building blocks are emerging but it’s not clear to me that we will build skyscrapers rather than bungalows. It is clear that it’s all software though – custom hardware has no place in this model.
So if knowing that it’s all going to change makes us “visionary”, then that’s what we are, but I still feel the excitement that comes from huge uncertainty about where the journey is going to take us.