Confessions of a cloud skeptic

'The cloud' has gotten way more attention than it deserves. Can we finally move on?

At long last, after a couple of years of obsessive coverage by trade rags and analyst firms, I think "the cloud" has jumped the shark. We've been inundated by stories declaring that cloud infrastructure will mark the end of cap ex for IT -- and almost as many articles labeling the cloud as an unreliable, underpowered security nightmare. Is anyone listening anymore? If you ask me, this dog has had its day.

Frankly, I've never seen what all the fuss is about. When I first started hearing rumblings about cloud infrastructure a few years ago, I actually thought I might have missed some huge technological development. It didn't take me long to figure out that at a very basic level, cloud infrastructure isn't new at all. It's the marketing and spin that's new.

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Web hosting providers have been around since the dawn of the Internet as we know it. I consider them the first widely adopted purveyors of cloud infrastructure. They offer hosted, multitenant software and a hardware architecture that charges on a subscription or per-use basis like a utility. Just about every enterprise with a Web presence -- small or large -- uses a hosted Web provider to serve up its public face rather than taking on the responsibility internally.

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Of course, there's more to IaaS (infrastructure as a service) than that. With the rapid maturation of server virtualization and the development of multitenant virtualization platforms, cloud infrastructure providers can now support just about any kind of compute requirement. Entire multitier application architectures, VDI, huge swaths of storage -- it doesn't really matter what it is anymore. The technology is there to shove it all into the cloud and make it work. That's certainly a far cry from simple Web hosting.

But it's not really the quantum leap everyone seems to think it is, either. Cloud infrastructure providers are just doing on a very large scale what some enterprises have been doing internally for nearly ten years -- mainly, server virtualization, where you migrate your physical infrastructure to a virtual infrastructure. If done correctly, this usually results in huge capital and operational cost benefits and increased scalability and reliability. The cloud extends this model and moves it outside the walls of your enterprise. A tremendously different cost and support model, certainly, but nothing particularly new from a technology standpoint.

The security and capacity challenges that cloud infrastructure providers face aren't really new either. Having dealt with many Web hosting providers -- and having run one myself in a previous life -- managing available capacity, making sure clients' business data is secure, and providing responsive support have been problems from the get-go.

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