A litlle more on clouds …

… originally published in i-CIO based on an interview in mid 2010

“I get somewhat disturbed by the term “cloud.” All the marketing and vendor hype surrounding it is confusing what should be a very important debate about the underpinning technologies and what they can do for your business.

All good CIOs know that they have to be, first and foremost, business leaders. But we are business leaders who have an area of expertise, and we must be able to apply that expertise — which is in how technology enables our businesses. That blend of business and technology acumen is now more important than ever.

The technology that underpins what vendors are calling “cloud computing” is rapidly maturing and does offer some interesting new opportunities, but I believe it’s important not to get carried away here.

It’s not a paradigm shift. It’s not a whole new world. It’s just change. It’s the same kind of change as when we went from the abacus to the mainframe, from mainframe to client/server, and so on. We live in a change industry. Change is what we’re all about, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary in that respect.

I am, however — as we all should be in these tough times — interested in the capex/opex shift that comes from utilizing these technologies, because I think it represents the possibility for a fundamental change to some of our business models.

I am also interested in the potential it has for removing some of the entry barriers to new markets that might otherwise have had a high capital-intensive set-up. And I am very interested in how the technologies will allow us to blend parts of our own infrastructure with the infrastructures of specific partners and public services.

But rather than talking about types of “cloud” — public, private, hybrid, whatever — we should be asking: Do these new models fit with our current sourcing decisions, be they hosting or hosted? And the answer is, in many cases: They absolutely do.

As CIOs — and increasingly this is a truly hybrid role — we need to focus the debate around the economics of our businesses and the appropriateness of the technologies to meet the strategic intent of our companies.

But we must not get wrapped up in the marketing spin and hype. We must focus on the practical aspects. CIOs and the rest of the technology profession have had a hard enough time acquiring sufficient language to engage in business discussions with business customers.

And now our profession — particularly the supply side — comes along and creates some nonsense term for what is actually, underneath, a very valuable and very business-critical technology.

I am worried that the reality of cloud can’t match the hype because it has been hyped out of all proportion. Also, just because it’s “the cloud” does not mean the basic disciplines of technology operations or sourcing can be ignored — they can’t.

So let’s focus on what the technology can do. And, like all new technologies — although in this case the concept is not that new — you need to dip your toe in the water and try it.”

• Follow Ian Cohen on Twitter: @coe62