Cloud Hype Rant

A few years ago, I read an excellent article in Wired magazine titled “The Thin Pill“:

“FOR PATIENTS, disease puts a name to an affliction. It answers that question we all face at one time or another: What’s the matter with me? If there is a clear and precise explanation for what’s wrong, then surely there is an equally clear way to get better.”

“Cunningham is among the first wave of Americans to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a condition that, though only concretely defined five years ago, is now said to afflict as many as 75 million Americans…Metabolic syndrome is, in fact, almost indistinguishable from obesity – at least 85 percent of those who have the syndrome are obese or overweight.
“The tidiness of that correlation makes it tempting to view metabolic syndrome not as an emerging fact of medicine, but as a fiction, wholly devised and disseminated by the pharmaceutical industry. After all, drug companies have long eyed obesity as the ultimate growth market — and they just happen to have an arsenal of pills poised to target it.”

I see some parallels in all of this cloud hype: The diagnosis is that your enterprise is spending too much on capital outlays for hardware; the cure is to pay a subscription fee to us services providers instead!

In an InfoWorld article, David Linthicum has a great bit from Miko Matumura:

Miko is referring to the fact that “cloud,” as a term and a symbol, has long referred to portions of the architecture you didn’t want to explain. As Miko says, “Basically whenever someone didn’t feel like drawing all of the network entities, they would just draw a puffy white cloud. In essence the puffy white cloud is shorthand for ‘don’t worry your pretty little head about this stuff.'” He’s right about that, and also the fact that many considered “clouds” to be where the “miracle” occurs in the architecture. That was a running joke for years.

While it’s told as a joke, I find this to be incredibly reflective of what I encounter when it comes to the cloud and non-techies: it’s supposed to be some miracle pill that fixes all of our problems; don’t worry about the composition, just take it and trust us, you’ll feel better.  And it is exactly this foggy perspective that is cluttering this space with hype.

(With Matumura’s anecdote in mind it’s hard to ignore the parallels of the hype of this movement with the hype and mass shift towards outsourcing a few years ago: take your development and technical resources and make it an abstract, “puffy white cloud”…that’s a topic for another rant.)

What makes the matter all the worse is that the term cloud computing is as nebulous as the name implies.  Jon Brodkin at writes:

I just performed a quick search of the archives on PRNewswire, and found 204 press releases mentioning the word “cloud” from the past 30 days. My e-mail inbox is full of cloud pitches, some of them useful, some of them not. A company called 3tera claims on the front page of its Web site to offer “the industry’s only cloud computing platform.” Really? It’s the only one?

Other vendors are trying to confuse the definitions of the various types of cloud computing. The phrase “private cloud” seemed strange at first, but by now most people agree that it refers to some kind of highly virtualized, internal network with lots of self-service attributes, essentially an Amazon-like cloud designed by a business for its own users.
One of the key attributes of a private cloud is that it’s run within your network – it’s not outsourced. But that didn’t stop Rackspace from claiming that it now offers “private clouds,” hosted in the Rackspace infrastructure. In other words, Rackspace is offering hosted data center services, similar to what they have always offered, and are now using the phrase “private cloud” to make them seem different and new.

Quite honestly, I’m sick of the hype and the excessive overusage of the term “cloud”.  Are there tangible benefits to cloud-style application architecture?  Sure, you bet.  But I think it’s important to sit back with a healthy dose of skepticism and evaluate how much of what’s out there is hype and how much of what’s out there is actually useful and cost effective.

With specific regards to Microsoft’s Azure, the time I spent with it was anything but pleasant: the documentation was lacking, the account and service management web interfaces were horrible and clunky, and the community knowledge is simply a void (but admittedly, this was early in the beta).  As I’ve seen with SharePoint, Microsoft has a habit of over-selling and under-delivering.  With two successive clients, I’ve found a consistent pattern of being sold a capability as “out-of-the-box” only to find that while you could do it, out-of-the-box, it would hardly be a productive or friendly user experience to do it that way.  My perspective is that as the current state of the platform comes into focus, it’ll play out much the same way and we’ll find that business folks, sales folks, CEOs, and CTOs will have to face the reality of an immature platform that’s not yet worthy of the hype.

At least from my perspective, it’s always better to under-sell and over-deliver; whether it’s the fault of the vendors or not, the current hype is leading us down the opposite path, at least in the near term.

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