It took some organising to meet with each of these vendors for a briefing on their views in the course of a single week in the Bay area, but it really does work in terms of being able to make comparisons. Not competitive comparisons of the products, but comparisons between their vision of how the next couple of years will develop and how that affects the way they are designing their products and solution capabilities.
The common vision is of a world dominated by services, paid for on demand, removing the need for capital investment, or monolithic large scale projects, and focussed on supporting a decentralisation of the edge of the business. The focus is on user centricity or enablement of the front office in its go-to-market activities, supported by effective ‘on the fly’ data analysis to optimise decisions, collaboration to increase employee effectiveness in leveraging expertise, with an overall change in the way of working resulting in a rise in the productivity of individuals.

This is in marked contrast to the current role of the IT department and the use of IT from the early to mid nineties which has been focused on the back office automation of existing business processes, or on redesigning enterprise processes, to centralise efforts in order to improve efficiency and reduce costs. This new role leads to universal concern about understanding who the buyer will be, and understanding what the reason and the definition of the solution to be supplied as services will be. It would probably be accurate to say that in three to five years a new burst of growth is expected in the market as the new models become established, but confusion over the path to get there from where we are today is the big concern.
So here is the definition of ‘cloud’, but is it the cloud? And here is the real point that hit me hard during the week. Each technology vendor had a completely logical and compelling description of the path to clouds, and their products, but they were all different! Can they all be right? Or more importantly how do you make choices, or apply standards?
Let me illustrate my point by taking two extremes; on one side HP’s positioning could be said to be that ‘the computer is the cloud’ (building on the famous phrase of Sun; the network is the computer), in terms of the functionality to deliver resources; on the Cisco side not unsurprisingly the statement would be the that ‘the network is the cloud’ in terms of its functionally to connect resources. The Cisco view makes sense if you think about an increasing number of sensors, or people, (I don’t mean users where the person’s profile and capabilities are created by the application), then the ‘cloud’ would have to possess certain capabilities. I will call it an ‘edge’ inward solution specification, which strongly contrasts with much of the current thinking around this topic which focuses on a more conventional view of more effective access to and distribution of computational resources. Think of this as a ‘centre’ out solution specification.
If we are creating what we used to call an ‘internet of things’, i.e many more low value devices such as utility meters, etc, where their address and a tiny date packet has to be accessed, and / or sent to a selected utility processing centre or service on a cloud, then very different attributes are required to those in a more computationally based services interaction. This topic certainly made me think beyond solving today’s IT based, and cost and operational based, issues.
There are variations on this of course, but the point it makes is clear. I now am considering that we should be thinking about ‘clouds’ in virtual way, by which I mean that a succession of virtual ‘clouds’ will need to exist, each possessing specific characteristics that suit certain types of services. Really it’s no different to what we see with servers today. Adding a hypervisor to a server adds new flexibility, but creating a virtualised environment means much more. What I suspect will happen is that we will start to use vendor specific approaches to building what I will term a physical cloud solution using their technology and approach to supporting a specific objective, but with time we will find these physical clouds will interoperate as a fully virtualised cloud environment.
Is this a new way of thinking about the practical adoption of clouds? Or have I got confused and over complicated the issue? All thoughts are welcome!