Cloud computing: Why the 'elastic waistband' promise falls on deaf ears

Providers make a big deal how the cloud can scale up and down as you need it, but most enterprises already have that capacity in-house -- and are looking for something else instead

I got a kick out of an eWeek article covering the recent fourth annual Cloud Computing Conference & Expo, which took place last week in Santa Clara, Calif. I mean specifically the comments by Jonathan Bryce, CTO and founder of Rackspace's cloud service, "who likened cloud computing to an elastic waistband."

Not to pick on Bryce, but perhaps speaking at a conference is not the best thing to do when it was just revealed that the Rackspace cloud suffered its third outage since June. While not making the big-time press like Gmail and Twitter downtimes, Rackspace is a cloud-based infrastructure provider that maintains a good deal of mission-critical public cloud computing resources.

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But back to the "elastic waistband."

"With the cloud, it's not just scaling up or out, but it's also scaling back down. Before clouds, you always had to buy more infrastructure than you needed; you could never buy just the right amount. That's what elasticity in waistbands and in the cloud is all about the right fit," Bryce said.

That's a very apt example when considering that many of us are breaking out the stretchy pants for Thanksgiving. However, we could be overselling that benefit. Follow me here.

Elasticity, which is what Bryce is referring to, allows cloud computing users to consume more or fewer computing resources as needed, on demand. Moreover, the use of these resources is relative to cost. The more you use, the more you pay; the less you use, the less you pay.

Thus, elasticity allows our computing needs -- let's call this our gut -- to expand and have the cloud computing resources expand along with it: Bryce's "elastic waistband." There's no need for waves of software and hardware installations and configuration to support the increasing computing power required. The same value occurs the other way around: the ability to use fewer computing resources as your needs decrease and, thus, pay less.

However, the elasticity aspect of cloud computing is perhaps oversold, and it's not a core concern for many enterprises. Indeed, if designed correctly, most on-premise architectures can provide good scalability on demand as well, such as those that are using advanced virtualization and well-managed environments with a bunch of existing capacity.

Thus, continuing to point to the elastic nature of cloud computing as the core selling point won't be a huge differentiator for many enterprises, considering they may have already invested in capacity and would like to get the value back from that existing investment. I think that more enterprises are in this type of situation than cloud computing providers care to admit.

The benefits of cloud computing are perhaps a bit more difficult to boil down to a simple analogy, such as the "elastic waistband" -- for example, the ability to shift risk to the cloud computing provider and reduce capital expenditures. Or the ability to be more agile by using cloud computing providers as configurable and easily provisioned resources. Or my favorite, the ability to extend your SOA to cloud computing providers, thus gaining more reuse and agility value for your SOA dollar spent. I can go on.

While elasticity is clearly a benefit of cloud computing, it's not going to be in the top 10 once reality sets in. Many have purchased pants that already have all the stretch they need.

This story, "Cloud computing: Why the 'elastic waistband' promise falls on deaf ears," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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