About two years ago, I suggested the cloud had jumped the shark -- not in the sense it had ceased to become an important part of the future of IT, but that the hype surrounding it had reached such a fever pitch that what it means to be "in the cloud" had almost become meaningless. I've been surprised to find that the hype has not died down.
If anything, the fact that cloudy infrastructures haven't experienced the worst of the gloom and doom that initial cloud detractors spread has piqued interest in cloud-based technologies. However, as in the past, nailing down exactly what the cloud is and, more important, how best to leverage its benefits is still challenging for many people.
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In discussing the cloud with clients and colleagues alike, I've found it's helpful to look at the full range of cloud-based services available in the marketplace today as a collection of tools that add to -- not replace -- the on-premise IT toolbox you may already have. I put a great deal of emphasis on selecting the right tools for the job, and looking at the cloud is no exception. Of course, selecting the right tool requires that you have a specific job in mind. Otherwise, you risk putting the cart before the horse in an attempt to bend a problem to fit the solution -- a situation that rarely ends well.
Although I believe the cloud is overhyped, there's no denying the range of cloud offerings available in the marketplace today have amazing capabilities. Tremendous scalability, elasticity, and always-on connectivity coupled with pay-as-you-go pricing are only a few of the benefits you can reap. However, not every IT challenge can effectively take advantage of those benefits. But some can.
Although the cloud can be an excellent answer for addressing such growth, the trials involved in getting there are significant. Do not go in without real research. Migrating even a fairly small environment into the cloud is a tricky process that involves a lot of careful planning to do safely.
Often, smaller organizations decide to partner with smaller cloud providers that can provide first-name-basis personalized support in addition to infrastructure services. Large IaaS providers, such as Amazon.com and the newly announced Google Compute Engine, provide just the infrastructure service. These smaller, more "human" providers can be an excellent option from a support standpoint, but you incur much more vendor lock-in than when dealing with megascale IaaS vendors, which the smaller vendors typically use behind the scenes anyhow.
A bad reason for using the cloud: Dealing with overworked human resources
If there's one constant in IT today, it's that everyone seems to be overworked. There always seem to be more projects on the docket than there are people to complete them. For many in IT management, the cloud seems to solve that problem. By moving data center infrastructure into someone else's hands, you should free up more on-staff IT pros to deal with business data and applications rather than the care and feeding of the servers, storage, and network gear.
In my experience, this is one of the worst reasons to move into the cloud. Although many smart cloud vendors have dedicated a lot of R&D into making it easy for you to spin up cloud-based resources and migrate your workloads into the cloud, that's not really where the time and investment of living a life in the cloud ends.