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The real cloud computing revolution

Bernard Golden | July 2, 2014
Reports of cloud computing's death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, a visit to the recent Cloud World Forum proved that companies of all shapes and sizes see the public cloud as an effective response to the stimulus of competitive conditions, even if many cloud vendors still think it's 2009.

Finally, it's no secret that Marks and Spencer operates in a difficult industry. It faces brutal competition and an ever-changing list of competitors. M&S also occupies the perhaps most difficult segment of the industry: The midmarket. Today's customers can find low prices at downmarket retail outlets and online ecommerce companies, while upmarket buyers have high-end retail shops to serve them, so midmarket stores fight over a shrinking set of buyers. Finding new ways to engage and service customers is critical to M&S's future, and its traditional IT environment proved inadequate to the task.

In all three cases, pressing business conditions forced these organizations to turn to public cloud environments, even though each already had existing IT environments. Each said its existing environment couldn't support the IT capabilities it needed to compete in the marketplace. What the firms needed to do could only be delivered by public cloud computing Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure in these examples, perhaps illustrating why Gartner's most recent IaaS Magic Quadrant shows only these two in the coveted Leader quadrant.

Cloud Adoption Also Means Agile Adoption
Interestingly, all three organizations changed their processes as part of their public cloud adoption effort. Each moved from a waterfall application lifecycle to an Agile/DevOps mixture, as illustrated in this pair programming effort at Lonely Planet. (Trio programming, actually.)

Lotus implemented DevOps in operating its race systems to facilitate rapid simulation execution. Marks & Spencer appears to have moved to a "NoOps" approach; application developers also deploy and support their apps.

One can see, then, that embracing cloud computing isn't merely a matter of using a different deployment location for applications. It requires rethinking established processes designed for a different environment so that infrastructure agility is matched by a streamlined deployment process. None of the companies I've discussed could have succeeded by trying to retrofit manual processes designed for yesterday's infrastructure onto an agile cloud environment; process friction would have prevented them achieving the speed and innovation their business conditions required.

In a way, one could consider this need for intertwined infrastructure and process change an existential threat to traditional IT, since it necessitates a fundamental rethinking of established operating assumptions. The attitudes reflected in the comments highlighted at the top of this post indicate that many people hold a strident belief that business as usual can address the factors motivating cloud adopters but these examples show how wrong they are.

Perhaps the most striking and disturbing aspect of Cloud World Forum was the disconnect between what the case studies and the vendors on the show floor presented. From what I saw among exhibitors, it could have been 2009, with cloud computing still considered an emerging technology requiring a cautious approach. The gallery below contains images showing examples of themes presented by many vendors: The incrementalist "enterprise" approach so beloved of cloud skeptics.


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