The great cloud pretenders

Little doubt that there’s already plenty being said about cloud computing. But among the ongoing stream of debate on definitions, on how it will work and how it won’t work, the most glaring gripe for us in the media is how every technology vendor claims to offer a piece of the cloud.

Let’s get this clear, cloud computing – in the sense of cloud-based services – promises to provide a real-time pay-as-you-go computing resource via the web for consumers and businesses. It’s the utility computing dream made reality today. We can request servers and storage on-demand via the web, we can consume applications and leverage online platforms in an on-demand fashion. And there are companies that do this today.

Cloud computing is real and it will be leveraged today and tomorrow by businesses that find the right use for it – it’s not for everything. And all this without adding any hardware, software or in most cases any new IT resource to support this.

So the question many want an answer to, myself included, is what exactly are the usual suspects – IBM, HP, Cisco, EMC – all saying when they claim to be putting a company on the path to cloud computing.

So far I don’t see any real cloud services from these providers. Certainly not in the strict sense of being able to put in a request for a server, storage rack or networking performance and have that provisioned immediately and pay for only the amount requested. If this is available, then the vendors are not communicating this very well.

What I, and I’m sure most businesses see, is that these guys are all promising to build your own cloud for you. They have all the pieces to help you build a data center like Google or Amazon.

But these are mere pieces, and maybe at some point you could replicate the dynamic virtual capabilities that Google operates in its own data centers, but is that what you really want to do? And do you have the time and resource to do that?

The point of cloud computing is to help alleviate the burden of managing IT, let someone else worry about virtualizing servers and coordinating and patching all the IT resources that go into delivering a dynamic real-time service to your users.

Granted there will be some that will pursue this path – banks like HSBC or DBS, companies with such resources and scale that it makes sense, particularly in such a cloud-averse regulatory environment like banking. But for the rest, or at least if your core competence as a business is not IT, why would you want to build your own cloud?

Vendors, let’s get the message straight, let’s stop pretending – you’re not really providing cloud computing today. You’re helping build clouds, whether private or public. Certainly no mean feat and in many cases, the dynamic virtual systems and networks are for actual cloud service providers. But building cloud and providing cloud computing are vastly different things. And it’s time for the real providers to stand up and deliver.