The great cloud debate's unsatisfying but true answer

Salesforce.com wants you to adopt the cloud whole hog. Microsoft wants you to tread lightly. Why they're both right -- and wrong

Leading the "Did you see this, Dave?" articles I received by e-mail last week was this piece by the Economist that provides a very interesting debate on cloud computing. The discussion was between Stephen Elop, the president of Microsoft's Business Division, and the never-boring Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com. Ding, ding, ding!

From Stephen Elop: "Customers speak for themselves, and customers want choice. Their key requirements necessitate choice. Customers will be suspect of cloud-only solutions because they may need the ability to either migrate from or interoperate with legacy applications; they want to use existing technology investments and skill sets; and their personal assessment of risk and operational preferences may include the need for some computing capacity within their own datacentres."

[ Get the no-nonsense explanations and advice you need to take real advantage of cloud computing in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Cloud Computing Deep Dive PDF special report, featuring an exclusive excerpt from David Linthicum's new book on cloud architecture. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Report newsletter. ]

From Marc Benioff: "Ultimately, customers do not care that much about the delivery model. But they do care about the economic model of traditional software, which has shifted dramatically against them. Increasingly, they are coming to the [realization] that they are duplicating the efforts of their competitors without innovating or adding business value. The real crisis of trust in this discussion is the rapidly eroding confidence that investing in traditional software will add real business value to the enterprise."

You can boil down the argument around the concept of using what I call cloud-heavy and cloud-light.

Benioff is a cloud-heavy guy, considering that all of his business has been around the promotion of enterprise software that's delivered as a service. Thus, his vision is that cloud computing-delivered software and infrastructure should provide you with more value, short and long term, than traditional enterprise software. I get it.

Benioff's view of cloud computing from the value perspective, and not around the hype and technology, is not a bad way to consider the technology. But it could be an oversimplification when considering cloud computing in a larger enterprise architecture context.

The cloud-light side of the debate came from Elop, whose company is in essence stuck between the clouds and on-premise systems, hoping to find a place in the middle. Microsoft is promoting a more measured use of cloud computing, believing that most of the processing will still occur on-premise, and that cloud computing is merely a choice that should be cautiously exercised. The argument is simple: The IT investment has already been made in on-premise systems, so you might as well use them. Moreover, there is risk in not using them.

The reality here is that there is no common right answer for all enterprises. Indeed, I've seen some smaller startups that have grown around cloud computing, and almost all of their processing occurs on cloud computing platforms. I suspect they will never have a significant degree of on-premise systems, no matter how big they grow. In this case, cloud computing will serve them well as the primary model for computing. However, they started with a blank piece of paper, which is not the norm.

At the same time, most traditional enterprises do indeed have an existing inventory of mission-critical on-premise systems. While the quick relocation of systems to the clouds may seem to offer a huge value and strategic advantage, the actual value that they will see depends largely on many aspects of their enterprise, including business, existing architecture, skill sets, customer needs, and employee needs. Thus, you get to the answer around cloud computing that everyone hates to hear but is typically correct: "It depends." No debate about that.

This story, "The great cloud debate's unsatisfying but true answer," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

Related:

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform