The topic of clouds has been a recognisable part of the debate on how to improve business using technology for some two years now, ample time for clarification on the topic and identification of the core issues and benefits. Yet if anything it has become less understandable with the passage of time, as the hype cycle attempts to remake almost any product or technique as a new technology to be considered under the ‘cloud’ label. Unsurprisingly, in view of this, I am regularly asked if there is a simple explanation of the concept, the techniques, products, in fact just about every aspect of the mysteriously far reaching and complex subject; The Cloud.
Well in my case more than two years have passed and during this time I have evolved a simple explanation, which most importantly does seems to work, and leaves those I am talking with satisfied that it is truly understandable. So here it is as a technology road map building up a series of changes starting with the advent of the Internet and the browser into popular use in the early 90s.
- The Internet; started a profound change by using standards to provide a simple, yet effective, universal connectivity capability that allowed anyone and anything to be contacted as and when needed without predetermined planning and implementation of special faculties.
- The Web; or what we might look back on as Web 1.0, followed this by providing browser technology for the universal management of content, a real game changing moment in terms of technology standardisation suddenly offering real tangible benefit, and changing how companies could participate in the external marketplace by building websites.
- Web 2.0; more recently added a new range of technologies and capabilities around the ability of people to interact, and share in a new range of so called ‘social’ activities, so named because of the universal social model created, an equally radical game change that put people at the centre rather than applications, data or computer.
- Cloud Services; are the latest stage of this progression adding the much needed ability to deliver processes, as universally accessible services delivered in a standardised manner from servers in a cloud data centre with a payment model based on use and an operating model based on simplicity in build, and flexibility in changing the orchestration of any process.
But quite how does this translate into the term ’clouds’? Strangely enough it is simple. The above four technology steps are all based on using a technology model that is described as ‘loose coupled, stateless and non deterministic’. In contrast traditional enterprise IT applications are integrated in a manner described as ‘tight coupled, state-full and deterministic’ allowing enterprise architecture to draw diagrams which show exactly what is connected to what and for what purpose. With the new technologies in a loose coupled model there are no permanent connections, it’s not possible to draw up an enterprise architecture diagram in the same way. The only possibility is to show which users and devices are part of the same ecosystem, then represented by a drawing of a cloud.
It therefore follows that by definition anything based on the standard client-server tight coupled model cannot be described as a cloud! BUT some of the key technologies such as virtualisation in particular that are part of the new technologies that make up clouds can be used highly effectively to improve the operating efficiencies of existing data centres. This is a sensible and highly recommended approach, and in time enables such data centres to support cloud service layers too, which may be the basis for the confusion as to whether or not these techniques should properly be referred to as clouds.
Well I have said it now, maybe I will face some irate marketing people, maybe even some real technologists, but I just hope that this simple description might be seen as helpful by many readers of this blog.