Blog Post

Cloud Computing: A System of Control

structure_speaker_seriesI’ve come to think of cloud computing as a system of control. The reference to the line in “The Matrix” aside, there is a reason to discuss the role of systems and the notion of control in emerging IT infrastructure and services. That reason is to motivate the development of IT equipment capable of supporting a new generation of application deployment. To do that, we must first revisit some design assumptions of our common IT building blocks and create some changes in the way we think and deploy IT today.

As we reflect on the evolution of IT in the global enterprise, IT-based differentiation is clearly fueling business growth across industries and forming new industries. IT benefits also clearly come with considerable cost. Reducing these costs by creating options for deploying applications is the spirit motivating the move toward cloud computing. Contrary to some descriptions, however, cloud computing isn’t cheap computing; it is the delivery of more control to enterprises so they can deliver IT services more affordably and efficiently. The difference between these two statements is important — one focuses on the underlying cost of a service, while the other focuses on the use of a service to reduce cost and enhance business value. Gartner analyst Lydia Leong recently observed on her blog:

The primary cost savings for cloud infrastructure does not come in the savings on the hard assets…Changing capex to opex, and taking advantage of the greater purchasing power of a cloud provider, can and will drive significant financial benefits for small to midsize IT organizations that use the cloud.

The customer control inherent in cloud services, coupled with new approaches to develop and deploy applications, can transform an enterprise significantly. Cloud-based services enable enterprises to adapt their spending to the application’s value and to adjust these decisions continually over time. In today’s cloud offerings, enterprises can purchase application, platform or infrastructure services based on this more flexible paradigm. By embedding more flexibility in service deployments, cloud services can increase control of IT costs in ways not previously available. I refer to this new control paradigm as “deployment control,” by which I mean the active management of IT capacity aligned with application value using the features of cloud services.

Conversely, cloud services can also take away a form of control. Enterprises have traditionally owned and operated their own infrastructure and applications. (Even licensed applications were at least operated by the enterprise.) This lifecycle ownership came with a high level of control related to resource assignment (collectively called quality-of-service, or QoS, control). Applications running in dedicated infrastructures benefit from the highest levels of resource control. The move toward shared service platforms — a basic tenant of all cloud service types — reduces the exclusivity and, hence, enterprise control of the delivered service. Many enterprises view the loss of this form of control as risky, which may impede adoption of these cloud services.

A deeper review of cloud service control attributes reveals the risks are changing as the technology matures. In particular, the adoption of shared service platforms and the benefits of increased deployment control does not necessarily require the loss of QoS control. At the heart of this issue is the way cloud services are built and requires us to re-examine the old debate of capacity vs. fine-grained resource management. My next post will talk more about why now is the time for us to consider IT systems, how they are built today, and how they might be built to enhance benefits and reduce risks to enterprises.

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. The second post will run tomorrow; the third, the day after that.

Bryan Doerr is chief technology officer for Savvis.

11 Responses to “Cloud Computing: A System of Control”

  1. Thanks for the education Bryan. A great point of view article, I look forward to the other parts.

    I can definitely imagine the savings in IT support of a larger cluster, much like internet host providers parse out domains/hosting profitably. The effect of adding a control dial on spending versus bandwidth/processing power/storage for unknowns will allow for greater market experimentation with lower long term costs. Once past the acceptance/trust boundaries, I can’t help but imagine cloud computing as an efficiency boosting service.

    Are there similar cloud concepts for software development? What about in other industries like power control or manufacturing/fulfillment?

  2. Excellent piece Bryan,

    The quote from Lydia is specific to Small and Medium IT Organizations. In my experience, many of these organizations use external service providers for many or all of their IT management. Additionally, I have observed that cloud delivered applications are often procured directly by the line of business manager and not necessarily IT. As a result many forward thinking service providers have developed a managed service capability and deliver managed applications such email, collaboration tools, CRM in addition to the traditional IT support. There are variations on this theme, but the point I wish to make is that the service providers may feel that their busines is threatened by cloud providers who are selling their services direct to customers.

    I am interested in your opinion on this subject. In particular what are your thoughts on the role network and systems management vendors should play? My Company has recently released its Cloud management capability as part of Managed Workplace 2009. We are enabling external service providers to remotely monitor and manage cloud delivered applications and services alogside on site IT and apps. Do you think we will help these service providers mitigate the threat and get on board to drive adoption so that SMB will acheive the cost benefits?


    I am interested in your perspective on

    • Bryan Doerr

      Hi Jeff, yes, I do think that the function you describe, which presents a systems management function to the SMB that includes a view of cloud assets will be an import part of the SMB solution. Additionally, I think that adding this function will improve the adoption rate of cloud services. In my view, as cloud services begin to dominate, system management tools are going raise their level of abstraction and deal more with decision making enablement and automatic optimization in IT.

  3. James Del Guidice

    Perhaps the cloud will force enterprise IT to work with their business leaders to better understand how much control the organization really requires. Then we may find that much of our dedicated infrastructure is ‘required’ only because we’ve overstated or inflated the need for control over the years.

    • Bryan Doerr

      Hi James, I agree, cloud services will drive enterprises to revisit their resource allocations and drive efficiences through less over provisioning. Further, I think a deeper understanding of actual requirements, per application, will drive the market to offer grades of cloud service to better satisfy these requirements.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. GREAT Article!

    As we saw a sharp increase in our user/customer base for our life saving mobile phone tracking application, we wanted to give our international customers 0.01% downtime and wanted to reduce our overheads and increase our margins.

    Better ROI is all about – How much can you improve your unit cost without losing your quality ?

    CLOUD Computing is certainly the answer and we have welcomed this open hands.


    Mobile Phone Tracking – Life Saving Symbian Application Application of the week comes from Down-Under from Track and Locate – LifeAssist Application, an innovative “Man Down System” Mobile Phone Tracking application, supporting Symbian S60 mobile devices (like the Nokia N95).

    We have released this application on 9 different Nokia Series 60 phones – Nokia N95, N96, 6210 6220 etc.

    “World’s best” Man Down System Tracking Solution, Life Assist is a new breed of cell phone based technology that enables the cell phone device and the Internet determine the welfare of a person.

    For the ageing population that is largely mobile and often single, a solution like Life Assist when used by aged care monitoring companies and agencies in community services will give a pro-active welfare and security system to their clients. Complete with GPS tracking, motion tracking, elementary signs-of-life check, biofeedback, remote camera activation, battery monitoring, and a voice-based interface – Life Assist is unparalleled in the easy of use and the value it delivers.


  5. Bryan,
    Great article. We have seen more focus from our (newScale) enterprise customers on driving standards and understanding unit costs. Most IT shops do not have clear unit cost — what does it cost to process an invoice? what is the fully loaded cost of a VM?

    We have seen many organizations start to deploy a service catalog to define their services, components and costs to then use it to drive standards and benchmark.

    In your experience, are your customers asking for more variation or more standardization? And what’s getting in the way of adopting cloud services as an extension of their traditional data center?

    -Rodrigo Flores
    -CTO, NewScale, (blog)

    • Bryan Doerr

      I agree with your observation. At this point, customers appear to be very accepting of standard solutions when they get the control offered by the cloud, but they are looking for more features.

      Regarding your second question, I think the “Virtual Private Datacenter Pattern” will emerge in time. There are two requirements – cloud customers with datacenters and cloud service providers with the right features, e.g., private network extension, ID and access management integration, etc.