November 21, 2014

The not so disruptive nature of the cloud - Centralized vs. Democratized

So, as the title of this post suggests, I want to discuss the disruptive nature of the Cloud, or rather the cloud not being so disruptive at all. This will be a series of 5 posts in total, you're reading the fourth post.

Read about the cloud and what it means and you're bound to read that the introduction of the Cloud, the real Cloud, the one that meets all criteria for being a Cloud, has been disruptive.

I like the NIST definition of Cloud, it is quite comprehensive and less vendor-biased than Gartner's defintion.

The Cloud has been disruptive when it comes to the IT industry, especially the hosting market. But it has also been a force in how we handle IT within the enterprise. There are a few important aspects of IT in the enterprise that we consider to have changed due to the Cloud:

  • Moving from in-house IT management services to off-site IT management services. 
  • Moving from CAPEX (Capital Expenses) based IT investments to OPEX (Operating Expenses). 
  • Moving from on-premise (business) applications to off-premise (hosted) applications. 
  • Moving from a centralized IT to a democratized IT 

  • I'm sure you can think of other movements as well in your IT environment, but these are typically considered to be not only happening, but also to be disruptive within the enterprise.
    These are in fact not really changes happening due to the Cloud, the Cloud merely gave these movements a boost and fast-tracked the changes in IT.

    Last time, which was a while ago, I wrote about the location of the data center, or rather about where the IT Infrastructure was located. This time around I want to discuss how IT resources find their way to the user, the customer.

    Ever since the beginning of (business) usage of IT within the enterprise there has been a movement from either centralized governance towards decentralized or even democratized and back. But first let me explain what I mean by 'democratized'. It is actually quite simple. Democratized means that everybody and their mother can obtain or have access to IT resources in this case. Consider computers, storage, network access and software applications.
    In the era of mainframes, IT was centralized, with the advent of PC's it got democratized, with client/server architectures it moved back to centralized and with the advent of thin clients, it became even more centralized. But the key here is that we've been at a democratized IT situation a long time ago, when PC's were introduced and software was installed locally on the PC by either a support engineer or the user herself. As long as you could get hold of the installation disks (and of course a valid license) you could install whatever you wanted. This was very beneficiary for the agility of the user but very bad for cost control on IT support expenditure. Because with all that software installed, viruses got installed as well, rendering the PC's unusable and a support engineer had to come over and fix the problem.
    Another important problem with a decentralized and especially a democratized situation with respect to the IT environment is collaboration between users. Apart from the fact that there is in principle no common ground for data, or information exchange if you will, but the diversity of applications in use, similar applications at that, means that exchanging information, actually collaborating is cumbersome to say the least. This resulted in a move towards centralization where PC's are not much more than computers that allow for a user friendly interface on top of a centralized application.

    With the advent of the cloud, and specifically SaaS offerings, the model became intrinsically more centralized, but at the same time, because of the public nature of SaaS offerings, they also became available for anybody with a means to pay for the service, thus democratization entered the enterprise again. With IaaS, but more over with PaaS, the democratization of IT resources extended to not just (business) applications but also towards computing resources and storage. Both Amazon and Microsoft have a ton of additional services on top of their own platforms, provided by both themselves and third parties.
    Everybody with a credit card can get their own enterprise software running in the cloud, create their own development environments or deploy a new marketing website. Typically with better availability promises than their internal IT departments can offer.

    Is this a new way of working, is democratization a new way for enterprises to handle IT? Hardly. So once again, there's nothing disruptive here that is related to the cloud.

    So, why is the cloud really taking off? Why hasn't the hype died yet? Why is the cloud causing IT departments such headaches? In the next, fifth and last installment of this series, I will reveal the true disruptive nature of the cloud. Stay tuned.

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