Whether it's from the board of directors, the CEO, or a business unit leader, CIOs are getting hit with cloud computing questions. What are we doing with cloud computing? Shouldn't we do more? What's our cloud strategy? Here's one attempt at a script for how to reply.
1. Not everyone's in the cloud.
It might feel like the whole world has leapt to cloud computing, and left us behind.
But consider these numbers. Dr. Dobb's and Forrester recently surveyed 1,021 developers and found about 4% currently deploying apps to the cloud. Just 4%. InformationWeek's Outlook 2010 research found 10% of companies doing some kind of cloud computing (meaning online CPU, storage, etc., but not including software as a service), and another 5% absolutely planning to do it. Both those data points to a clear reality: cloud computing--when defined as buying computing power by-the-drink IT from a third party--is in very early adopter stage.
Not to say we should dismiss it. That would be a serious mistake. Interest is soaring not because we CIOs are gullible chumps falling for the hype, but because the capabilities are improving quickly and the potential gains are enticing. A year ago, just 31% of InformationWeek readers expressed a positive view of cloud computing, in the sense of either using it, planning to, or feeling "more likely" to use it given the poor economy. This year, 46% take one of those positive views of the cloud. Fifteen percentage points is a big move in a year. Cloud computing has momentum and mindshare for solid reasons, even if it's more interest than adoption today.
2. We should be learning, not deploying.
Remember when we rushed that critical e-commerce project to an offshore developer in 2002, because the promised cost savings made our mouths water? And how we got back what we asked for, but it didn't remotely do what we needed, because we didn't have the skills to ask for what we really needed? Offshoring came with a steep learning curve on our end--learning how to manage offshore resources, and understand the risks. We're going to go through the same curve with cloud computing.
At the InformationWeek 500 conference this year, I heard this comparison: outsourcing your infrastructure is like renting a house; cloud computing is like renting a hotel room. You rent only what you need while co-existing alongside any number of strangers going about their own business. We need to understand the risks and capabilities that come with what's essentially a new flavor of outsourcing.
3. We are learning.
We're not sitting on our hands, waiting for cloud computing to be perfected by everyone else. We have pilot projects in the works, offloading some discrete but computing-intensive jobs to cloud providers, giving our IT teams some experience and hopefully helping our business unit leaders see what's possible as well, so they can bring ideas to us. We're tire-kicking the vendors, including Amazon Web Services and Microsoft's newly launched Azure, to understand their capabilities. We're talking to other companies about the use cases they find for cloud's variable capacity. Eli Lilly, for example, is using Amazon's EC2 for research.
We're also working on applying cloud architecture concepts, in terms of on demand and shared computing resources, to our own data center. That's delivering near-term cost savings, and we hope lays the groundwork for shifting overflow workloads to public clouds like Amazon, in a hybrid cloud model.