friday-rant
Cloud Computing

Rant: Is cloud computing a case of 'Emperor's New Clothes'?

Human beings tend to have a sheep-like tendency to follow each other. Think of the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Emperor’s New Clothes – we don’t want to risk ostracism by challenging the consensus of wisdom. This tendency has led to all manner of historical outcomes – some harmless, others catastrophic in the form of dictatorships or complacent attitudes to disease, malnourishment and more.

I’ve been thinking about this because it seems to be generally accepted that the world is moving to cloud computing just as ‘the world’ once moved to client/server computing – because it is fundamentally a better model. This comparison might be the starting point for a new debate.

If you look back and think about what happened in the mainframe-to-client/server transition, there were any number of pundits proclaiming the death of the mainframe. But today, a quarter-century later, the mainframe remains; as with Mark Twain, reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated. From this, we can take the lesson that transitions in technology platform trends can often take a long time.

There are reasons for this. One of them is that the successor platform might have weaknesses compared to the incumbent. So, while client/server delivered lower acquisition cost, openness, better productivity tools, reduced dependence on a single supplier and flexibility, this came at the cost of higher admin workload, complexity, greater need for supplier management, licensing complexity, security, reliability and so on.

Likewise, cloud computing reduces IT acquisition cost, allows for tremendous flexibility, supports mobility and is a good fit for companies scaling their workforces up and down all over the world. But it poses data security and governance questions, can be more expensive over time, requires strong internet infrastructure to be optimally effective, and involves a new set of suppliers we are only just getting to know.

Next year, the notion that once upon a time a luminous switch was flicked that would take us all into a new world full of technological goodness might attract deeper questioning than has so far been the case amid all the boosters. In some sectors it’s possible that there will be a partial return to older models of computing too as projects and test-beds reach their conclusions. Like the child who pointed out that the Emperor was naked, it might just take one bold soul to point out the obvious points most people seem to prefer to ignore.

  

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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