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.

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