Cloud Computing and the Promise of On-Demand Business Innovation - InformationWeek
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Cloud Computing and the Promise of On-Demand Business Innovation

The wow isn't just about technology; it's about process flexibility and reuse that will enable enterprises to quickly serve new customers and launch new lines of business.

The Real Deal on Cloud Computing

In technological terms, the Cloud represents the knee in an exponential growth curve (see chart below) and the beginning of the "real" Internet. It's what the Internet was really meant to be in the first place -- an endless computer made up of networks of networks of computers. Notions of time-sharing, computer utilities and "the network is the computer" (as Sun's John Gage declared in 1984) have been around for quite some time. But early visions were constrained by a lack of network bandwidth. But now that the overabundance of dark fiber laid down during the dot-com boom is being lit up, perhaps it's time for a "computer utility redux" in the form of cloud computing.

The Knee of the Internet Growth Curve

But there is much more to cloud computing than high-bandwidth access to unlimited computing resources. That more is what you do with those resources. Since the beginning, the level of abstraction for commanding computers (programming) has experienced many step changes: from machine-oriented assembly languages, to COBOL, to object-oriented programming, to distributed objects, and now on to service oriented architectures (SOA). The higher the level of abstraction, the greater the simplicity of use, and the more people can participate in creating and consuming technology and information resources. Cloud computing is the next step in the evolution of the Internet as a source of "services." It's those services that users are interested in, not the underlying technologies. Just consider that Web 2.0 thing. As it turns out, Web 2.0 is a key driver for the production and consumption of services. Think about Web 2.0 as the consumerization of IT.

No, Web 2.0 is not new Internet technology, as Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, would tell you. On the other hand, Tim O'Reilly, publisher and coiner of the term Web 2.0, would counter with, "Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences. "In this ecosystem, each individual in the organization becomes an active agent in building solutions for their own every day challenges," writes Jonathan Sapir in his book The Power in the Cloud. "Because they are closest to the problem or opportunity, they are better able to respond quickly and effectively."

Without drawing this discussion out further, physical dots (computers and networks) and mental dots (data, software and rich user services) are being connected in the Cloud to create a universal information and computational resource more powerful and easier to use by greater numbers of people than ever before. The question is, what does cloud computing portend for business? To really understand what cloud computing means for the enterprise, think architecture, where virtualized, standardized infrastructure and software services components can be bundled, unbundled and rebundled to create new and innovative business platforms capable of operating at a massive Web scale. I call the next big step in the evolution of enterprise architecture Cloud-Oriented Business Architecture (COBA).

So, what's new with cloud computing? "First is the ability to use components from different cloud resources and mix and match the solutions you're seeking," explains veteran enterprise architect David Linthicum. "Most firms won't just migrate enterprise applications to the Cloud, but instead leverage cloud infrastructure components as a jumping off point. You're able to use storage-as-a-service from one provider, database-as-a-service from another, and even a complete application development-and-deployment platform from a third."

This ability to use just the resources you need is a clear value of cloud computing, Linthicum argues. It's another "tool in the shed that has the potential to make your enterprise architecture more cost effective and efficient."

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