Why cloud computing hopes (should) spring eternal

You would think by now I would be really, really sick of talking about cloud computing.

Today I hosted what was, I think, our fifth or six event on the topic this year. Even the ones that aren’t explicitly about the cloud, including our full-day conferences, end up at least touching on it peripherally. And when you look at all the news stories we’ve produced, the features, the how-to pieces and the videos, I could understand if it seems like we’re going overboard. We have completely exhausted the double entendres of the word “cloud” in our display copy. And we’re just the Canadian technology media. The coverage is as voluminous elsewhere.

One of the great things about being a part of IDG is the chance to meet with the other scores of journalists we have in more than 30 countries around the world who are analyzing the impact of these trends at a local level. Earlier this week, for instance, I had the great pleasure of welcoming to our office Vijay Ramachandran, my counterpart at IDG India, who oversees CIO India, Channelworld India and the recently-launched Computerworld India. Although we spent a great deal of time talking about our common challenges from an editorial point of view, he also discussed some research his team recently conducted with the IT management community there, and in particular their outlook on cloud computing.

Some stats sounded familiar. There was an overall reluctance, for example, to farm things out to the public cloud – as in Canada, there may not be much confidence in the maturity of the available service providers. There was also no rush to place into the cloud any real core applications. You’re not going to see a lot of Indian firms turning to cloud computing for their e-mail, for instance. Some areas were different, however. There seemed to be a stronger push towards storage virtualization than server virtualization, both of which are often considered prerequisites to cloud computing.

Overall, though, Vijay’s research noted a pretty consistent trajectory for those Indian IT managers or CIOs who are exploring cloud computing. It goes something like this:

1.      Interest

2.      Confusion

3.      Frustration

4.      Cynicism

This, of course, reminded me again of research firm Gartner’s famous “hype cycle,” except that it includes more of a happy ending. Gartner typically sees organizations enter a trough of disillusionment before entering into a “plateau of enlightenment.”

Cynicism is worse than that. It suggests that those who feel that way will be so guarded against future disappointment that they will in a sense shut the door to further projects or attempts. Innovation and progress is never aided by cynicism.

I heard a whiff of it this morning, when, after a detailed demonstration of a vendor’s cloud-related application performance management product, a member of the audience put up her hand. She said that he was describing sounded great in theory, but practice was another matter. “It sounds a lot like those dashboards we spent $10 million on and which ended up not really working well at all.”

The hype around something like cloud computing deserves to be challenged. That’s one way to explain our seemingly never-ending coverage. There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck in highlighting the potential of a new technology or strategy (cloud computing contains elements of both) as well as examining the pitfalls or drawbacks that vendors may choose to avoid. That doesn’t mean we should be cynical. It just means we should be thorough, whether it’s the reporting we do or the due diligence conducted by an enterprise IT shop. We also need to remember what we want out of cloud computing – a way to more dynamically allocate resources to meet business demands. That goal should not be met with cynicism. It should inspire hope.

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