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Roger Strukhoff

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Blog Post

Cloud Computing is Today's RDBMS

Nobody Really Likes Change. How Do We Overcome This Reality?

I saw a cartoon years ago about technology in a print magazine--remember those? It might have been The New Yorker, or maybe it was NASCAR Illustrated or Guns & Ammo; I can't remember.

The cartoon showed The Executive from Central Casting behind his desk, balding, glasses, thin tie and lips, sharp beak, barking into his intercom, "Miss Jones (or Smith or Stein), we need an RDBMS strategy! Find out what an RDBMS is immediately!"

Yes, it's true, I saw the term "RDBMS" in a nationally distributed, non tech magazine. Such is the nature of what we now call memes. Whether a cultural meme-my demographic will remember "Well, excuuuuuse me" and "But nooooooo"-or a more modern, YouTube-type meme-"...and cancel the clown"-these things spread like wildfire through society.

Nothing New Here
The blogosphere's echo chamber is hardly unique; I once got arrested as a young lad in Illinois, and my aunt in Florida knew the charges before I did. (The "stolen" muskmelons were my grandfather's. He had asked me to run them over to his brother, to whom he was not speaking at the time. Case dismissed. I had to pay the speeding ticket, though.)

So RDBMS was once the new toy. It was an important one, too. The main competitors of the day-Oracle, IBM, Sybase, Informix, Ask/Ingres, and Microsoft-were in a frantic drive to lock customers in, to get that big three-pronged hook into as many corporate mouths as possible and never let go of the line. Even today, the database remains the central application in the entire, Worldwide Realm of Enterprise IT.

The Worldwide Web was the next truly transformational development within the realm. It occurs to me that a few other folks have written about the Web and its impact over the past 15 years; I have nothing to add to this discussion today.

Isn't It Rich?
So send in the Clouds. Fortuitous, isn't it, that the Internet was handwaved as a cloud all these years? It could have just as easily been diagrammed as a series of tubes or something. Tubular Computing just sounds too Spicolian, dude.

So Cloud Computing it is. And now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their enterprise, with a Cloud-Computing strategy that will enable them to maintain competitive advantage through seamless end-to-end interoperability while keeping their most important assets-their customer relationships and employees-first and foremost in their thinking.

This has led to the usual landrush by technology vendors, oversimplification by general media, and fear and loathing by IT buyers. For all the happy talk about change that we hear from our politicians and titans of business, the reality is that people don't like change. Or, they like change but only on their terms.

I've dressed the same frumpy way since my mom let me pick my own clothes in second grade or so. I still wish I had never traded in that 1991 Toyota Camry. And I'm not interested in hearing that anyone's better than George Jones or Merle Haggard, thanks very much. I think most of my fellow human beings have the same ingrained attitude about change.

Isn't it Switch?
Go ahead, read Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch. Old Nic was just trying to be provocative when he first hit the radar screen with his "Does IT Matter?" article and book. In retrospect, maybe he'd say he was too provocative, because he has been widely misunderstood.

IT does matter, and Nicholas Carr knows this as well as you and I know it. Electricity matters, too, as does water.

None of these creates utopia on their own. Only the ideas behind them improve the way companies do business, improve lives.

So how can we be sure that Cloud Computing improves enterprises and lives? Is that question on your radar screen? Let me explain why I think it should be.

The first distinction I make is between the Enterprise Cloud and the Consumer Cloud. I see the distinction between Public Cloud and Private Cloud as being "a simple matter of execution," as we say. These are both subsets of the Enterprise Cloud phylum.

I do understand that there is a substantial Social Networking dimension to enterprises today, and Social Networking was created to screw, er, serve consumers. I also realize that several major major businesses today leverage Enterprise Cloud technology to deliver consumer services-think Apple.

Sorry, No Change
Realistically, though, who amongst us is Steve Jobs, other than Steve himself? When most enterprise IT folks are thinking of Cloud Computing, they're thinking of how to re-deploy resources to support the company website, run internal management programs (like Oracle's latest RDBMS and related apps), or keep their engineers securely connected from Chennai to Chattanooga to Chermany.

And they don't like change. They don't want to make a big switch. They dread the enthusiastic note from CEOs who just got caught up with Cloud Computing during their recent working holiday in Malta or the Comoros (or maybe just Hilton Head this year.)

Whether you've been in this business 30 years or only 3, I'm sure you have one or more anecdotes about a.) presenting a brilliant transformational plan to your IT managers that was meant by blank stares, grumbles, or outright derision, b.) listening to some lunatic present a nonsensical "transformational" plan that would destroy all current capability while flushing money down the toilet.

Change in IT departments usually comes slowly, with enough snafus to create every variety of recognizable fubar. Budgets are overspent, vendor relations get frayed (and worse), the alligators become so numerous you forget it was your job to drain the swamp.

And now you're coming to me saying we're just going to rip everything out and put our family jewels into the hands of that guy who sells books online? Or those Commie kowtowers? Or that woman who talks like a sailor? Or here's an idea: how about we get in even deeper with Cisco and tick off HP? Or is it the other way around?

In fact, that's exactly what I'm saying. I'm not advocating a blue ocean, a long tail, a leap over a chasm, or the absurd notion that the world is flat (a 10,000-mile-long supply chain is a 16K-long supply chain by any other name).

The Hard Sell
But if I could tell you that you can reduce the 80% of your IT budget that you spend on maintenance and bollocks, would you be interested? If you could tell your controller that IT is now simply a monthly expense, rather than a capital expenditure nightmare, would he or she be interested? If you could tell your CEO that the IT department is now the company's primary source of innovation, would any of you be interested?

Let's get away from the notion that Cloud Computing will vacate entire floors of engineers in Santa Clara or Omaha for "three guys in India." That was a disastrous statement, by whomever made it.

This is the nub of the challenge, I know. The C-Suite is full of people who didn't get there by being nice and who can't keep their hands off of quick savings when they see them. And it takes more courage to push back top management than it does to say "no" to a four-year-old who wants that piece of candy. But the principle is the same.

You, too, can improve your enterprise. Maybe even change the world a little bit. Go ahead and put members of the Cloud Security Alliance through their paces; make triple sure they've addressed your security concerns.

Then sell your vision based on why it makes your company smarter and better, not why it's going to save a little money here and there. In fact, if you're at a small company, you can now dream dreams that were impossible in a world where serious IT was too expensive for you. If you're a grumpy IT manager listening to the pitch, don't fear this change. As with RDBMS a generation ago, everybody needs a Cloud Computing strategy today.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.