Cloud computing makes users of us all

As we outsource more and more to cloud services, those of us in IT will be reduced to pleading on the phone just like our users

Here's yet another reason cloud computing is not a new idea: For users, corporate computing has always been a cloud. Users have applications they rely on to do their jobs; they load data to crunch on; they interact digitally with coworkers, clients, and partners -- and all of it comes from this amorphous blob known as IT. Without this stuff, most of them would have nothing to do.

That obliviousness, for better or worse, defines the relationship between users and IT: From their desks, users look down the hall toward IT and see ... nothing. Night-vision goggles can't help, nor would a bridge allow them to cross the chasm and instantly discover what IT is about.

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This distance from core technology extends to users' personal lives. They're using Gmail, streaming movies from Hulu or Netflix, and using sites like Flickr and Facebook to provide them with all kinds of services -- and they magically work. They're someone else's problems, and when it breaks, users get very angry.

In IT, we know exactly how the sausage is made. We too rely on data, applications, and communications tools to do our jobs, but we have the benefit of being able to see into the magical forest of the back end. We're also far likelier to fix technical problems on our own -- or we should be. An IT person would never be fazed by a dialog box that has a greyed-out Continue button and an empty check box, for instance.

The gulf between users and IT often leads to animosity. From the user's perspective, if a problem -- no matter how minute -- is preventing them from completing a task, the immediate assumption is that IT is incompetent and someone should get fired. From an IT perspective, the user is being an idiot who can't think clearly enough to tie a pair of shoes.

But as companies move more apps and services into the cloud, those of us in IT are going to become exactly like our users. As we shift from providing such services as email in-house to a cloud provider, we find that when things go wrong, not only do we have users at our throats, but we don't have any insight into the problem itself. We're at the mercy of the cloud provider, and all we can do is make angry phone calls and write angry forum posts and emails. We're destined to become squeezed in the middle between users and cloud services, in many cases without the power to fix anything.

Those of you moving into cloud services, be prepared to feel less confident about certain aspects of your job, and get used to the feeling of not having any part in problem solving and disaster prevention other than as a mineshaft canary. I suppose the upside is that we'll have a better understanding of how our users have felt all along.

This story, "Cloud computing makes users of us all," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest in business techonology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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