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Posts Tagged ‘Innovation’

Incomplete Thought: Batteries – The Private Cloud Equivalent Of Electrical Utility…

January 24th, 2010 21 comments

While I think Nick Carr’s power generation utility analogy was a fantastic discussion catalyst for the usefulness of a utility model, it is abused to extremes and constrains what might ordinarily be more open-minded debate on the present and future of computing.

This is a debate that continues to rise every few days on Twitter and the Blogosphere, fueled mostly by what can only be described from either side of the argument as a mixture of ideology, dogma, passionate opinion, misunderstood perspective and a squinty-eyed mistrust of agendas.

It’s all a bit silly, really, as both Public and Private Cloud have their place; when, for how long and for whom is really at the heart of the issue.

The notion that the only way “true” benefits can be realized from Cloud Computing are from massively-scaled public utilities and that Private Clouds (your definition will likely differ) are simply a way of IT making excuses for the past while trying to hold on to the present, simply limits the conversation and causes friction rather than reduces it.  I believe that a hybrid model will prevail, as it always has.  There are many reasons for this. I’ve talked about them a lot.

This got me thinking about why and here’s my goofy thought for consideration of the “value” and “utility” of Private Cloud:

If the power utility “grid” represents Public Cloud, then perhaps batteries are a reasonable equivalent for Private Cloud.

I’m not going to explain this analogy in full yet, but wonder if it makes any sense to you.  I’d enjoy your thoughts on what you think I’m referring to. ;)

/Hoff

Silent Lucidity: IaaS — Already A Dinosaur? The Evolution of PaaSasaurus Rex…

November 12th, 2009 8 comments

dinosaurSitting in an impressive room at the Google campus in Mountain View last month, I asked the collective group of brainpower a slightly rhetorical question:

How much longer do you feel pure-play Infrastructure-As-A-Service will be a relevant service model within the spectrum of cloud services?

I couched the question with previous “incomplete thoughts*” relating to the move “up-stack” by IaaS providers — providing value-added, at-cost services to both differentiate and soften the market for what I call the “PaaSification” of the consumer.  I also highlighted the move “down-stack” by SaaS vendors building out platforms to support a broader ecosystem and value proposition.

In the long term, I think ultimately the trichotomy of the SPI model will dissolve thanks to commoditization and the need for providers to differentiate — even at mass scale.  We’ll ultimately just talk about service delivery and the platform(s) used to deliver them.  Infrastructure will enable these services, of course, but that’s not where the money will come from.

Just look at the approach of providers such as Amazon, Terremark and Savvis and how they are already clawing their way up the PaaS stack, adding more features and functions that either equalize public cloud capabilities with those of the enterprise or even differentiate from it.  Look at Microsoft’s Azure.  How about Heroku, Engine Yard, Joyent?  How about VMware and Springsource?  All platform plays. Develop, click, deploy.

As I mention in my Cloudifornication presentation, I think that from a security perspective, PaaS offers the potential of eliminating entire classes of vulnerabilities in the application development lifecycle by enforcing sanitary programmatic practices across the derivate works built upon them.  I look forward also to APIs and standards that allow for consistency across providers. I think PaaS has the greatest potential to deliver this.

There are clearly trade-offs here, but as we start to move toward the two key differentiators (at least for public clouds) — management and security — I think the value of PaaS will really start to shine.

Probably just another bout of obviousness, but if I were placing bets, this is where I’d sink my nickels.

You?

/Hoff

* The most relevant “incomplete thought” is the one titled “Incomplete Thought: Virtual Machines Are the Problem, Not the Solution…” in which I kicked around the notion that virtualization-enabled IaaS and the VM containers they enable are simply an ugly solution to an uglier problem…

Cloud Providers and Security “Edge” Services – Where’s The Beef?

September 30th, 2009 16 comments

usbhamburgerPreviously I wrote a post titled “Oh Great Security Spirit In the Cloud: Have You Seen My WAF, IPS, IDS, Firewall…” in which I described the challenges for enterprises moving applications and services to the Cloud while trying to ensure parity in compensating controls, some of which are either not available or suffer from the “virtual appliance” conundrum (see the Four Horsemen presentation on issues surrounding virtual appliances.)

Yesterday I had a lively discussion with Lori MacVittie about the notion of what she described as “edge” service placement of network-based WebApp firewalls in Cloud deployments.  I was curious about the notion of where the “edge” is in Cloud, but assuming it’s at the provider’s connection to the Internet as was suggested by Lori, this brought up the arguments in the post
above: how does one roll out compensating controls in Cloud?

The level of difficulty and need to integrate controls (or any “infrastructure” enhancement) definitely depends upon the Cloud delivery model (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) chosen and the business problem trying to be solved; SaaS offers the least amount of extensibility from the perspective of deploying controls (you don’t generally have any access to do so) whilst IaaS allows a lot of freedom at the guest level.  PaaS is somewhere in the middle.  None of the models are especially friendly to integrating network-based controls not otherwise supplied by the provider due to what should be pretty obvious reasons — the network is abstracted.

So here’s the rub, if MSSP’s/ISP’s/ASP’s-cum-Cloud operators want to woo mature enterprise customers to use their services, they are leaving money on the table and not fulfilling customer needs by failing to roll out complimentary security capabilities which lessen the compliance and security burdens of their prospective customers.

While many provide commoditized solutions such as anti-spam and anti-virus capabilities, more complex (but profoundly important) security services such as DLP (data loss/leakage prevention,) WAF, Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDP,) XML Security, Application Delivery Controllers, VPN’s, etc. should also be considered for roadmaps by these suppliers.

Think about it, if the chief concern in Cloud environments is security around multi-tenancy and isolation, giving customers more comfort besides “trust us” has to be a good thing.  If I knew where and by whom my data is being accessed or used, I would feel more comfortable.

Yes, it’s difficult to do properly and in many cases means the Cloud provider has to make a substantial investment in delivery platforms and management/support integration to get there.  This is why niche players who target specific verticals (especially those heavily regulated) will ultimately have the upper hand in some of these scenarios – it’s not socialist security where “good enough” is spread around evenly.  Services like these need to be configurable (SELF-SERVICE!) by the consumer.

An example? How about Google: where’s DLP integrated into the messaging/apps platforms?  Amazon AWS: where’s IDP integrated into the VMM for introspection?

I wrote a couple of interesting posts about this (that may show up in the automated related posts lists below):

My customers in the Fortune 500 complain constantly that the biggest providers they are being pressured to consider for Cloud services aren’t listening to these requests — or aren’t in a position to respond.

That’s bad for everyone.

So how about it? Are services like DLP, IDP, WAF integrated into your Cloud providers’ offerings something you’d like to see rather than having to add additional providers as brokers and add complexity and cost back into Cloud?

/Hoff

Variety & Darwinism In Solutions Is Innovation, In Standards It’s A War?

September 5th, 2009 6 comments

I find it quite interesting that in the last few months or so, as Cloud has emerged as a full-fledged business opportunity, we’ve seen the rise of many new companies, strategies and technologies. For the most part, hype aside, people praise this as innovation and describe it as a natural evolutionary process.

Strangely enough, with the emergence of new opportunity comes the ever-present push to standards.  Many see standards introduced too early as an innovation squasher; it inhibits free market evolution, crams down the smaller players, and lets the big fish take over — especially when the standards are backed by said big fish.  The open versus proprietary debate is downright religious.

Cloud Computing is no different.

We’ve seen many “standards” float to the surface recently — some backed by vendors, others by groups of concerned citizenry.  Many Cloud providers have published their API’s in an attempt to standardize interfacing to their offerings.  Some are open, some are proprietary.  Some are even open-sourced.  Some are simply de facto based upon the deployment of a set of technology, solutions and an ecosystem built around supporting it.  Professional standards organizations are also now getting involved.

In J. Nicholas Hoover’s blog post titled “Groups Seek Cloud Computing Standards,” Gartner’s David Cearly said :

“Community participation, deliberate action, and planning must be a vital part of any successful standards process…Otherwise, he said, cloud standards efforts could fail miserably.”

“Standards is one of those things that could absolutely strangle and kill everything we want to do in cloud computing if we do it wrong,” he said. “We need to make sure that as were approaching standards, we’re approaching standards more as they were approached in the broader internet, just in time.”

I suppose that depends upon how you measure success…

Tom Nolle wrote an interesting piece titled: “Multiple Standards Cloud Spoil Cloud Computing” in which he lists 7 standards bodies “competing” for Cloud, wondering out loud why if they all have similar interests, do they exist separately.  After he talks about the difference between those focused on Public and Private Clouds, he bemoans the bifurcation and then plugs the one he finds best ;)

So now we have live public cloud services with incomplete standards and evolving private cloud standards with no implementations.

The best hope for a unification is the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum. Its Unified Cloud Architecture tackles standards by making public cloud computing interoperable. Their map of cloud computing shows the leading public cloud providers and a proposed Unified Cloud Interface that the body defines, with a joking reference to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as “One API to Rule them All.”

So make that 8 players…

This week we’ve seen the release of the VMware-sponsored and DMTF-submitted vCloud. We also saw RedHat introduce their Deltacloud API.  We have the Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI) standards work which getting underway within the Open Grid Forum (OGF.)  There’s a veritable plethora of groups, standards and efforts at play.

Some of it is likely duplicative.

Some of it is likely vendor-fed.

The reality is that unlike others, I find it refreshing.

I think it’s great that we have multiple efforts.

It would, for sure, be nice if we could all agree and have one focused set of work, but that’s simply not reality.  It will be confusing for all concerned in the short term.

The Open vs. mostly-open debates will continue, but this NORMAL.  In the end, we end up with a survival of the marketed-fittest.  The standards that win are the standards that are most optimally muscled, marketed and adopted.

Simon Wardley wrote a piece called “The Cloud Computing War” which to me read like an indictment of the process (I admit my review may be colored by what I perceive as FUD regarding VMware’s vCloud,) but I can’t help but to shrug it off and instead decide to focus on where and whom I will decide to pitch my tent.

I’ve already done so with the Cloud Security Alliance (not a standards body) and I’m looking at using vCloud to find a home for my A6 concept.

A Cloud standards war?  War is such an ugly term.  It’s just the normal activity associated with disruptive innovation and the markets sorting themselves out.  The standards arena is simply where the dirty laundry gets exposed.  Get used to it, there’s enough mud/FUD flinging that you can expect several loads ;)

/Hoff

Cloud Maturity: Just Like the iPhone, There’s An App For That…

June 27th, 2009 4 comments

iphoneknitI was brainstorming a couple of Cloud things with Doug Neal and Mark Masterson the other day and whilst grappling for an appropriately delicious analog for Cloud Computing, my 5-year old approached me and asked to play the “burping beer game (iBeer)” on my iPhone.  Aha!

Whilst I have often grouped Cloud Computing with the consumerization of IT (and the iPhone as it’s most visible example) together in concert in my disruptive innovation presentations, I never really thought of them as metaphors for one another.

When you think of it, it’s really a perfect visual.

The iPhone is a fantastic platform that transforms using technology that has been around for quite a while into a more useful experience.  The iPhone converges many technologies and capabilities under a single umbrella and changes the way in which people interact with their data and other people.

In some cases we have proprietary functions and capabilities which are locked into the provider and platform.  We pay for this forced allegiance, but we tolerate it as necessary.  We also see the inventiveness and innovation of people for whom brute forcing their way into openness with jailbreaks is a reasonable alternative.

There’s lots of ankle biting as vendors and providers clamor to bring the familiar trademarks of the iPhone to their own platforms.  There are marketplaces being built around these platforms to open up new opportunities for collaboration, applications and experiences with the, gasp!, phones.

It’s true.  The iPhone is, at its heart, a phone, and we’ve had mobile phones forever.  Some complain that the iPhone is nothing more than a smartly packaged combination of technology we’ve already had for ages and that thanks to Moore’s law, we’re able to cram more and more stuff into smaller and smaller spaces.  That logic therefore dictates that the iPhone is the mini-me “mainframe” of mobility. ;) And millions buy it still.  It’s like technology timesharing as the phone, Internet and mobility capabilities all compete for a timeshared swath of space in my pocket.

Yes, that’s right.  The iPhone is simply timesharing of functions on a phone. <snort>

To the detractors’ point, however, for all the innovation and exciting capabilities the iPhone brings, it has and continues to suffer from some seriously goofy limitations that in other platforms would be game stoppers, but people settle anyway, waiting for the technology to catch up and dealing with the implications as they become important (or not.)

The best example?  Cut and paste.  I had freaking cut & paste in my Newton 15 years ago.  The lack of C&P made certain things unusable on the iPhone let alone inconvenient and even insecure (having to copy and write-down complex passwords since I stored them in 1password, for example.)

However, I’ve purchased each revision of the iPhone as it came out and have been incrementally giddy with each new hardware/software combinaton, especially with the 3.0 software upgrade which finally gave me my beloved cut and paste ;)  The reality is that there are probably better solutions for my needs, but none that are so damned convenient and sexy to use.

The thing I love about my iPhone is that it’s not a piece of technology I think about but rather, it’s the way I interact with it to get what I want done.  It has its quirks, but it works…for millions of people.  Add in iTunes, the community of music/video/application artists/developers and the ecosystem that surrounds it, and voila…Cloud.

The point here is that Cloud is very much like the iPhone.  As Sir James (Urquhart) says “Cloud isn’t a technology, it’s an operational model.”  Just like the iPhone.

Cloud is still relatively immature and it doesn’t have all the things I want or need yet (and probably never will) but it will get to the point where its maturity and the inclusion of capabilities (such as better security, interoperability, more openness, etc.) will smooth its adoption even further and I won’t feel like we’re settling anymore…until the next version shows up on shelves.

But don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

/Hoff

Most CIO’s Not Sold On Cloud? Good, They Shouldn’t Be…

June 7th, 2009 13 comments

I find it amusing that there is so much drama surrounding the notion of Cloud adoption.

There are those who paint Cloud as the savior of today’s IT great unwashed and others who claim it’s simply hype and not ready for prime time.

They’re both right and Cloud adoption is exactly where it should be today.

Here’s a great illustration: “Cloud or Fog? Two-Thirds of UK CIOs and CFOs Not Yet Sold on Cloud“:

Sixty-seven per cent of Chief Information Officers and Chief Financial Officers in UK enterprises say they are either not planning to adopt cloud computing (35 per cent) or are unsure (32 per cent) of whether their company will adopt cloud computing during the next two years, according to a major new report from managed hosting (http://www.ntteuropeonline.com/) specialists NTT Europe Online.

Whose perspective you share comes down to well-established market dynamics relating to technology adoption and should not come as a surprise to anyone.

One of the best-known examples of this can be visualized a by a graphical representation of what Geoffrey Moore wrote about it in his book “Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers“:

techadoptioncurve

Because I’m lazy, I’ll just refer you to the Wikipedia entry which describes “the Chasm” and the technology adoption lifecycle:

In Crossing the Chasm, Moore begins with the diffusion of innovations theory from Everett Rogers, and argues there is a chasm between the early adopters of the product (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). Moore believes visionaries and pragmatists have very different expectations, and he attempts to explore those differences and suggest techniques to successfully cross the “chasm,” including choosing a target market, understanding the whole product concept, positioning the product, building a marketing strategy, choosing the most appropriate distribution channel and pricing.

Crossing the Chasm is closely related to the Technology adoption lifecycle where five main segments are recognized; innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. According to Moore, the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. The most difficult step is making the transition between visionaries (early adopters) and pragmatists (early majority). This is the chasm that he refers to. If a successful firm can create a bandwagon effect in which the momentum builds and the product becomes a de facto standard. However, Moore’s theories are only applicable for disruptive or discontinuous innovations. Adoption of continuous innovations (that do not force a significant change of behavior by the customer) are still best described by the original Technology adoption lifecycle. Confusion between continuous and discontinuous innovation is a leading cause of failure for high tech products.

Cloud is firmly entrenched in the Chasm, clawing its way out as the market matures*.

It will, over the next 18-24 months by my estimates arrive at the early majority phase.

Those who are today evangelizing Cloud Computing are the “technology enthusiasts” and “visionaries” in the “innovator” and “early adopter” phases respectively.  If you look at the article I quoted at the top of the blog, CIO’s are generally NOT innovators or early adopters, so…

So don’t be put off or overly excited when you see hyperbolic references to Cloud adoption because depending upon who you are and who you’re talking about, you’ll likely always get a different perspective for completely natural reasons.

/Hoff

* To be clear, I wholeheartedly agree with James Urquhart that “Cloud” is not a technology, it’s an operational model. So as not to confuse people, within the context of the “technology adoption curve” above you can likewise see how “model” or “paradigm” works, also.  It doesn’t really have to be limited to a pure technology.

Dear Mr. Schneier, If Cloud Is Nothing New, Why Are You Talking So Much About It?

June 3rd, 2009 13 comments

squidly

Update: Please see this post if you’re wondering why I edited this piece.

I read a recent story in the Guardian from Bruce Schneier titled “Be Careful When You Come To Put Your Trust In the Clouds” in which he suggests that Cloud Computing is “…nothing new.”

Fundamentally it’s hard to argue with that title as clearly we’ve got issues with security and trust models as it relates to Cloud Computing, but the byline seems to be at odds with Schneier’s ever-grumpy dismissal of Cloud Computing in the first place.  We need transparency and trust: got it.

Many of the things Schneier says make perfect sense whilst others just make me scratch my head in abstract.  Let’s look at a couple of them:

This year’s overhyped IT concept is cloud computing. Also called software as a service (Saas), cloud computing is when you run software over the internet and access it via a browser. The salesforce.com customer management software is an example of this. So is Google Docs. If you believe the hype, cloud computing is the future.

Clearly there is a lot of hype around Cloud Computing, but I believe it’s important — especially as someone who spends a lot of time educating and evangelizing — that people like myself and Schneier effectively separate the hype from the hope and try and paint a clearer picture of things.

To that point, Schneier does his audience a disservice by dumbing down Cloud Computing to nothing more than outsourcing via SaaS.  Throwing the baby out with the rainwater seems a little odd to me and while it’s important to relate to one’s audience, I keep sensing a strange cognitive dissonance whilst reading Schneier’s opining on Cloud.

Firstly, and as I’ve said many times, Cloud Computing is more than just Software as a Service (SaaS.)  SaaS is clearly the more mature and visible set of offerings in the evolving Cloud Computing taxonomy today, but one could argue that players like Amazon with their Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or even the aforementioned Google and Salesforce.com with the Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings might take umbrage with Schneier’s suggestion that Cloud is simply some “…software over the internet” accessed “…via a browser.”

Overlooking IaaS and PaaS is clearly a huge miss here and it calls into question the point Schneier makes when he says:

But, hype aside, cloud computing is nothing new . It’s the modern version of the timesharing model from the 1960s, which was eventually killed by the rise of the personal computer. It’s what Hotmail and Gmail have been doing all these years, and it’s social networking sites, remote backup companies, and remote email filtering companies such as MessageLabs. Any IT outsourcing – network infrastructure, security monitoring, remote hosting – is a form of cloud computing.

The old timesharing model arose because computers were expensive and hard to maintain. Modern computers and networks are drastically cheaper, but they’re still hard to maintain. As networks have become faster, it is again easier to have someone else do the hard work. Computing has become more of a utility; users are more concerned with results than technical details, so the tech fades into the background.

<sigh> Welcome to the evolution of technology and disruptive innovation.  What’s the point?

Fundamentally, as we look beyond speeds and feeds, Cloud Computing — at all layers and offering types — is driving huge headway and innovation in the evolution of automation, autonomics and the applied theories of dealing with massive scale in compute, network and storage realms.  Sure, the underlying problems — and even some of the approaches — aren’t new in theory, but they are in practice.  The end result may very well be that a consumer of service may not see elements that are new technologically as they are abstracted, but the economic, cultural, business and operational differences are startling.

If we look at what makes up Cloud Computing, the five elements I always point to are:

cloud-keyingredients018

Certainly the first three are present today — and have been for some while — in many different offerings.  However, combining the last two: on-demand, self-service scale and dynamism with new economic models of consumption and allocation are quite different, especially when doing so at extreme levels of scale with multi-tenancy.

So let’s get to the meat of the matter: security and trust.

But what about security? Isn’t it more dangerous to have your email on Hotmail’s servers, your spreadsheets on Google’s, your personal conversations on Facebook’s, and your company’s sales prospects on salesforce.com’s? Well, yes and no.

IT security is about trust. You have to trust your CPU manufacturer, your hardware, operating system and software vendors – and your ISP. Any one of these can undermine your security: crash your systems, corrupt data, allow an attacker to get access to systems. We’ve spent decades dealing with worms and rootkits that target software vulnerabilities. We’ve worried about infected chips. But in the end, we have no choice but to blindly trust the security of the IT providers we use.

Saas moves the trust boundary out one step further – you now have to also trust your software service vendors – but it doesn’t fundamentally change anything. It’s just another vendor we need to trust.

Fair enough.  So let’s chalk one up here to “Cloud is nothing new — we still have to put our faith and trust in someone else.”  Got it.  However, by again excluding the notion of PaaS and IaaS, Bruce fails to recognize the differences in both responsibility and accountability that these differing models brings; limiting Cloud to SaaS while simple for cute argument does not a complete case make:

cloud-lower030

To what level you are required to and/or feel comfortable transferring responsibility depends upon the provider and the deployment model; the risks associated with an IaaS-based service can be radically different than that of one from a SaaS vendor. With SaaS, security can be thought of from a monolithic perspective — that of the provider; they are responsible for it.  In the case of PaaS and IaaS, this trade-off’s become more apparent and you’ll find that this “outsourcing” of responsibility is diminished whilst the mantle of accountability is not.  This is pretty important if you want ot be generic in your definition of “Cloud.”

Here’s where I see Bruce going off the rails from his “Cloud is nothing new” rant, much in the same way I’d expect he would suggest that virtualization is nothing new, either:

There is one critical difference. When a computer is within your network, you can protect it with other security systems such as firewalls and IDSs. You can build a resilient system that works even if those vendors you have to trust may not be as trustworthy as you like. With any outsourcing model, whether it be cloud computing or something else, you can’t. You have to trust your outsourcer completely. You not only have to trust the outsourcer’s security, but its reliability, its availability, and its business continuity.

You don’t want your critical data to be on some cloud computer that abruptly disappears because its owner goes bankrupt . You don’t want the company you’re using to be sold to your direct competitor. You don’t want the company to cut corners, without warning, because times are tight. Or raise its prices and then refuse to let you have your data back. These things can happen with software vendors, but the results aren’t as drastic.


Trust is a concept as old as humanity, and the solutions are the same as they have always been. Be careful who you trust, be careful what you trust them with, and be careful how much you trust them. Outsourcing is the future of computing. Eventually we’ll get this right, but you don’t want to be a casualty along the way.

So therefore I see a huge contradiction.  How we secure — or allow others to — our data is very different in Cloud, it *is* something new in its practical application.   There are profound operational, business and technical (let alone regulatory, legal, governance, etc.) differences that do pose new challenges. Yes, we should take our best practices related to “outsourcing” that we’ve built over time and apply them to Cloud.  However, the collision course of virtualization, converged fabrics and Cloud Computing are pushing the boundaries of all we know.

Per the examples above, our challenges are significant.  The tech industry thrives on the ebb and flow of evolutionary punctuated equilibrium; what’s old is always new again, so it’s important to remember a couple of things:

  1. Harking back (a whopping 60 years) to the “dawn of time” in the IT/Computing industry making the case that things “aren’t new” is sort of silly and simply proves you’re the tallest and loudest guy in a room full of midgets.  Here’s your sign.
  2. I don’t see any suggestions for how to make this better in all these rants about mainframes, only FUD
  3. If “outsourcing is the future of computing” and we are to see both evolutionary and revolutionary disruptive innovation, shouldn’t we do more than simply hope that “…eventually we’ll get this right?”

The past certainly repeats itself, which explains why every 20 years bell-bottoms come back in style…but ignoring the differences in application, however incremental, is a bad idea.  In many regards we have not learned from our mistakes or fail to recognize patterns, but you can’t drive forward by only looking in the rear view mirror, either.

Regards,

/Hoff

Incomplete Thought: Cloud Computing & Innovation – Government IT’s Version of Ethanol?

May 31st, 2009 4 comments

ethanolTime to stick my neck outside my shell again…

I was reading MIT’s Technology Review (registration required) and came across an interesting article titled “Can Technology Save the Economy?

This was a very thought-provoking read as it highlighted how tens of billions of dollars allocated to energy and information technology in the U.S. stimulus bill causes many economists and innovation experts to remain extremely skeptical:

The concern over the stimulus bill’s technology spending is not just that it offends conventional macroeconomic theory about the best way to boost the economy; it’s that it might harm the very technologies it means to support.  Because the bill was written quickly and shaped by political expeidiency, economists and experts on innovation policy are leery of many of its funding choices.  

Could extending billions of dollars’ worth of fiber-optic lines to rural communities, for example, become a boondoggle?  Or what if utilities run high-power transmission lines to remote solar or wind farms only to find that the electricity they produce is too expensive to compete with other sources?

As a historical analogy, experts point to corn-derived ethanol.   Once the darling of alternative-energy advocates, the heavily subsidied biofuel is now routinedly condemned by both environmentalists and economists.  Yet because ethanol’s use in gasoline is now mandated by federal law, and a large industry is now invested in its production, and its production is likely to continue even though it offers few envorinmental benefits over gasoline.

This example shows that we’ve gone so far down the path of “corn power” despite it’s lack of delivering on its promises.  We can’t escape from the gravity of our investment driven by the fervor surrounding its adoption which it seems in many cases were based upon untested theories and unsubstantiated practice.

Ethanol was designed to resolve dependencies on straight fossil fuels.  It was supposed to cost less and deliver better performance at lower emissions.  It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  In reality, ethanol has produced many profound unanticipated impacts; financial, environmental, economic, political and social.  Has it’s production and governmentally-forced adoption driven better solutions from being properly investigated?

Despite my unbridled enthusiasm for Cloud Computing, I am conflicted as I examine it using a similar context to the ethanol example above.  I fully admit that I’m stretching the analog here and mixing metaphors, but the article got me thinking and some of that is playing out here.  It *is* an “incomplete thought,” after all.

While Cloud adoption in certain scenarios may certainly offer tremendous agility and in some cases forthright cost savings, one must ask if the cult of personality surrounding Cloud, especially in the public sector, is not unduly influenced by the pressing macroeconomic conditions, confusing applications of ROI across various dozens of use cases enveloped by a single term, and the same sort of political expediency described above.  

With all of its many benefits, Cloud presents many (if not more) challenges stemming from not solving problems we’ve had for decades.  Cloud is a convenient reason to leap forward whilst refusing to look from whence we are jumping; we’re not necessarily solving problems, we’re “transforming” them.

As with much disruptive innovation, the timing and intersection of technology, religion, culture, economics and politics can mean the difference between bust or boom.  

In the case of Cloud, I’d suggest that the collision space provides the proverbial perfect storm; the hyping of Cloud Computing is largely premature and a convenient scape-horse to which we are hitching our cost-laden IT wagons.  The momentous interest surrounding Cloud in the Public Sector sounds eerily similar to the ethanol scenario above.  Are we so wrapped around the axle with Cloud Computing that we’re actually blinding ourselves from solving the problems we have in fundamentally better ways?

The danger, of course, is that while the federal dollars could help renewable-energy companies survive the recession, they could also prop up existing technologies that would not be competitive in an open market.  Not only could the federal spending support uneconomical energy sources (as has been the case with ethanol), but the resulting backlash could discourage policy makers, investors, and the public from embracing newer, more efficient technologies.  

Putting on my devil’s advocate hate I have to ask “Are we ignoring potentially better solutions to our problems?”  Certainly we’re seeing a definite spike in the punctuated equilibrium of IT’s evolution, but at this point, one might argue it’s a supply driven demand.  Is Cloud Computing really the answer to our problems or a fantastic and convenient way of treating the symptoms?

You can’t swing a dead cat in Washington without somebody talking about moving something to the Cloud.   One the one hand, it’s fantastic to see Government think outside the box, but what happens when the box collapses?  

The movie will play out and we’ll have to wait and see whether  the horsepower delivered by Cloud is more analogous to ethanol — a reformulated version of gasoline that doesn’t really deliver  on it’s promises, but that we’re stuck with — or whether we’ll see the equivalent of the IT hydrogen fuel cell instead.

Time will tell.  What do you think? 

/Hoff