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Roger Strukhoff

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Can We Cut the Cloud Computing Overhype?

Let's Focus on Specific Benefits, not Snake Oil Cures

Hype is the enemy of success. But people just can't seem to help themselves, so new developments are invariably hyped. This is as true in the technology business as in any business in the world.

Cloud Computing is the latest new development to get hyped mercilessly. Two years ago, a handful of companies were talking about a new way of doing things, a way that was in essence Grid Computing with Attitude. But Grid Computing sounds geeky and borgish; something best left for simulating nuclear explosions, perhaps.

Today there is not a single technology company lacking a Cloud Computing strategy, whether real or ostensible, as far as I can tell. All these solutions are either unique, compelling, or ideal. The situation reminds me a bit of hyperinflation; when there are too many units of currency (or units of hype) to meet market needs, each unit has little or no value.

To be fair, most Cloud presentations I've seen from vendors recently do define what specific challenges they address, and how they solve them. But it would be nice to have a standard map of common IT scenarios and processes to which Cloud can be applied, with vendors pointing to precisely where in these scenarios their products fit.

Maybe it's just a simple matter of staying with the SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS progression.

The Hype Cycle
The trouble is, Cloud Computing has now reached the Peak of Expectations portions of the Gartner hype cycle chart. It may have reached this more quickly than almost anything previously.

When I first saw this chart, in the mid-90s, I bust out laughing. I thought it was a hilarious, satiric commentary on the industry. I thought the Trough of Disillusionment was a scream. No one else in this particular room was laughing. People were taking this thing dead seriously.

It was at this point in time I realized that I needed to a.) remember that humor is not allowed in Silicon Valley, except by Steve Wozniak, and b.) start taking ridiculous graphics seriously, or c.) go back to the sportswriting career of my very, very early days.

I decided to stick with the tech industry. Most coaches and athletes aren't really funny, either, and they take their charts even more seriously than do tech execs.

Yet this chart does point out an obvious truth; overhype something and you're going to be disappointed. We writers and events producers are as guilty as anyone of creating hype, and it should stop.

I would think the Web 2.0 phenomenon has been the most overhyped industry term in recent years. Originally set out as a concrete, detailed set of principles, this horse got out of the barn before anyone realized it had grown big enough to escape its pen. Web 2.0 has vaguely become an equivalent to social networking, another overhyped phenomenon.

Companies certainly can benefit from increased customer feedback, from a smart Twitter page, or the occasional video that "leaks" onto YouTube. None of these ideas are original, though; they're only sped up and made more accessible by modern invention.

Sneaky Snake-Oil Snakes
The fact is, we're in a renewed era of snake-oil peddling. Way back in the 1970s and 80s, snake-oil peddling was viewed with amusement as purely a 19th-century anachronism. How could people back then been so stupid and gullible? In our modern times, it was confined to matchbook covers, sleazy little classified ads in the back of comic books, and the occasional late-night TV commercial on those stations that didn't sign off with the national anthem at 1am.

Yet today, the craft is back, and not only through disreputable, sleazy email spam. It's there on every technology-company website, in every press release found in google searches, and may some day be what kills Twitter. Are people today still so stupid and gullible? Or does the extremely low cost of pumping effluvia through the Internet just make it seem so?

Thus, the hype cycle. Web 2.0. Social networking. Before that, the entire dot-com era and the belief that the cute little Java programming language was going to be the lingua franca of technology and change the world.

And now, Cloud Computing.

Rules? In a Knife Fight?
I want to believe in Cloud Computing, I really do. After all, my business card says I'mone of the editors of Cloud Computing Journal. So I must believe in it, right?

Yes, I do, and here are a few proposed rules that I think would be very helpful to the cause:

* Round-file the terms private, public, and hybrid. They are either imprecise and/or meaningless, and are no longer helpful in any case.

* Get away from speeds and feeds and talk about what a product or solution will do. Microsoft was onto something when it asked "Where do you want to go today?"

* Realize that this is often an accounting discussion. Don't focus on the huge cost savings as much as the difference between capital expenditures and operational expense.

* Realize that when it's not an accounting discussion, it's a point-solution discussion. What specific area can you address? It's OK to admit if you're only talking about mirroring a server, outsourcing a non-realtime app, or just selling a little insurance policy. Don't come into someone's joint and scare them by saying the latest paradigm shift is on and that they'll be roadkill in one of Ted Stevens's tubes along Al Gore's Internet highway if they don't listen to you.

* Respect the law. As an example, I just read an article in The New York Times that expressed exasperation with EU regulations that require Cloud servers to be located either on EU territory or in a shortlist of countries (the US was one of these). Well, why not? You know that companies, if given the chance, will locate their servers in Somalia if they think they can save a nickel. I'm with the Euros on this one.

* Realize that you won't win every sale. This is anathema to the business, and one reason why I'm not a technology salesperson. Yes, I watched the movie adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross, and loved Tin Men as well. But there's a greater good, and that is that Cloud Computing as a whole will benefit if you live the dictum that your customers come first and are always right.

The Rising Tide
As I've written before, I've spent much of the past two years in a developing country, which has given me a non-US view of the challenges much of the world's population faces, day in and day out. I've learned that many countries' political leaders are much more quick to play the pity card--please help us, we are so poor--and the guilt card--British (or American) colonialism caused all our problems--than are members of the general population.

Intellectuals in my resident country fulminate now and then about the sins of the great powers, but the masses don't. They know their lives are hard, so they get up, get to work, and try to do something about it. They welcome any new luxury. It reminds me of the time in the US when almost no one had air-conditioning; that didn't mean people enjoyed suffering in the heat. The same is true where I live.

It is in these places that I think Cloud Computing has its greatest potential for good. A relative lack of legacy IT may make it easier to deploy Cloud-smart applications and infrastructure. The slashing of capital expenditure requirements should make it easier to afford said solutions and (virtualized) infrastructure. And there are plenty of aspirations in developing countries; the people would like to go many, many places today.

Many of these places are lacking in any sort of government transparency, and often have restrictions on foreign investment and ownership that are shortsighted and harmful. Yet, all of the big technology companies are here, along with many of the smaller ones. No reason to get hyperbolic about how Cloud will save childrens' lives or liberate impoverished people; most people ask only that their lives suck a little bit less.

Cloud can play a big role in making for a better life here and in other developing countries, to be sure. It is my hope that its ability to do so is not overhyped.

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.