Does Cloud Matter? (Part 2)

I rambled a bit yesterday about whether cloud computing matters. I concluded that it does, for no other reason than your company needs to keep up with its current and potential future competitors. But it’s difficult to make this argument in a traditional way.

For example, years ago, if your company was slow to get PCs, and still kept paper forms in shoeboxes and file cabinets, you were going to become sluggish, quickly, and probably go out of business.

If you didn’t move to a relational database, you were going to be impossibly flat-footed compared to your competition in learning about your customers and serving them.

And if you dilly-dallied too long with a website strategy, you risked getting swept up by an irreversible online commerce tide.

The cloud’s not like that. Most times, you won’t even know if there’s a cloud in place in any particular transaction. So much of the cloud talk these days is “inside baseball” stuff – written for developers and other IT people who are invoking these clouds.

Sure, there’s lots of fun talk about devices – does your iPhone make you a cognoscente or poseur, does my Android device make me practical or a loser? But that’s just idle talk, something to pass the time.

The Bigs
The real cloud issues today have to do with stacks and structures. The latest big news, of course, is VMware buying Nicira and assembling its own “death star” to compete with Amazon Web Serivces, Google’s new Compute Engine, and Rackspace.

But that big news has little to do with most businesses. That big news can be viewed as meta-cloud to most companies, the underlying structure of what it is they want to do. The rival death stars bring no new capabilities, the way that word processors, spreadsheets, relational databases, and websites brought.

And, the wishful thinking goes, businesses are less likely to get locked into one of these integrated solutions than they have been to get locked into a single big vendor or two for the past several decades. The reality is that potential vendor lock-in here will likely stall the growth of public cloud rather than spur it.

There is a competitive battle of the highest order going on among the emerging cloud-computing camps. There are some great built-in conflicts, ie, “co-opetition issues.” Cloud matters deeply to these folks, and their organizations literally hang in the balance.

How Does It Matter To You?
But for most businesses, it is a more subtle exercise to see how much cloud matters. Look to see how you can improve your own operations. Are you being held back by not being able to buy enough computing resources? Do you wish you could focus more on your core business rather than your IT department? Do you have seasonal, monthly, or daily spikes? Is your like-sized competition somehow able to move more quickly than you, and able to offer a more sophisticated online experience? Do you have the creativity but not the resources to outwit a much larger competitor?

This is where cloud matters to you. Cloud’s true benefits come the form of a better company, not simply a new product. Its breakthrough nature is not screamingly obvious as was the spreadsheet, the relational database, the website. But over the long haul, I’m sure you’ll find it to be transformative.

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