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Cloud Computing – is it all Vapor?

So when I listen to IT people talking about cloud computing I am fascinated by the number of completely different opinions about what it is. I’ve heard it called “Outsourced IT” and compared to what EDS did with Data Center outsourcing. I’ve heard it compared to Hosting, where an organization simply pays someone else to run its application in a hosted data center. I’ve heard people say it is Software as a Service (SaaS) a-la Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) or SalesForce.com’s service.

Others refer to Microsoft Azure or Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which is a series of Web Services deployed on the vendors’ platforms to ensure reliability and rapid scalability. Others talk of Private clouds, where a company simply builds their own dynamic infrastructure that can rapidly scale and change as needed.

When I talk to business people about cloud computing, they all seem to have a common opinion of what it is – less complicated and less capital intensive than traditional IT. That is the allure of cloud computing. Businesses don’t have to own servers and software – no big capital outlay. Businesses don’t need a bunch of geeks with completely different vocabularies to keep operations running. Pay someone else for that on an as needed basis. Business growth: no problem, just provision more capacity. Business contracts: reduce your usage and your bills go down. Easy, right?

The irony is that they are all correct and perhaps all wrong. Cloud computing has become a marketing term to describe anything virtual. If I can’t point to one server and say that is my XYZ application it must be cloud-based! The problem arises because it is not simply a plug and play process. It is evolving and there are some real benefits to a well thought out strategy, but it is different for every organization.

What can be a great idea for one company can be truly horrible for the next. It comes down to business requirements, careful planning and execution. What are your thoughts? Let me know.

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