What ISN'T Cloud Computing?

I finished my cloud computing manuscript a few weeks ago and have detox’d a bit now, although I did speak about it yesterday.  It’s given me a chance to get some perspective on cloud computing and firm up some thoughts I’d been leaning towards anyway.  As I mentioned at the session we did yesterday, cloud is shifting from a marketing term to something with a definition.  Which doesn’t stop every technology company’s marketing department from trying to wrap their product as either cloud or something-as-a-service.  The latest one I came across was desktop-as-a-service.  I loved Bob Lewis’ (I use his name like I know him!) riff recently in talking about leveraging cloud concepts internally:  “… the Conjunction Society of America will soon offer ‘as’ as a service.”

One thing I’m more firmly committed to is the idea that so-called private cloud is marketing hype.  Someone may actually be doing this but the ones I’ve heard of sound like they’re hosted, virtualized services.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re not cloud just because you traverse the Internet to get to them.  If you are opening up a remote terminal window that looks like a Windows desktop running Windows applications, you’re not using cloud computing.

Data Disappearing Due to Latency

Two comments were made at yesterday’s session, both by people at law firms who have bought something billed as cloud but which isn’t.  The first lawyer noted that they were having significant issues with data not being up to date, so that you might log in to your calendar only to see that certain appointments were missing that had been there before.  The explanation of the provider was that that’s how the cloud works.  But that’s the marketing cloud.  The whole point of cloud computing, as I understand it, is that the resources are pooled in such a way so that this sort of latency doesn’t happen.  If this is not in fact just a problem with insufficient bandwidth – trying to pour too much honey in the funnel and having to wait for it to empty – then it sounds like these are not really cloud systems but just hosted ones.  Because that’s the sort of problem that I’ve seen in Lotus Notes, in Microsoft Exchange, etc., in other words, systems that have some notoriety for being complex and/or clunky and not often built for cloud computing.

Our Cloud Reboots Nightly

The second comment was that they experienced substantial slowdowns in using their systems until the cloud provider shifted to a nightly reboot of their servers (Windows) which enabled the applications to run more smoothly.  The downside is that the entire private cloud vaporizes for 30 minutes every morning while the system restarts.  Anyone who has administered a Windows system knows the benefits of bouncing your servers – I had to do this about 15 years ago in order to ensure that our printing cost recovery system wouldn’t hang with a bunch of print jobs in queue.  And yes, hahaha for the Unix folks who rarely find themselves having to reboot due to a memory leak or other problem.  I run a pair of Linux servers and that’s my experience too  – they can stay up for weeks at a time without any need to restart.

If you have to bounce your servers nightly for operations, you’re not in the cloud.  I think the NIST definition of resource pooling and infiniteness underscores why – because you’re maxing out your resources – but also because these are clearly legacy applications with legacy problems that have been placed on virtual servers.  Virtualized servers are a fantastic breakthrough in the last 10-15 years, whether hosted or not.  But they’re not cloud.  A cloud provider with this problem would be forced to choose between bouncing ALL customers and disabling connectivity for 30 minutes or fixing the problem.  The rapid iterative updating that happens with software-as-a-service providers would mean that they’d fix the problem, rather than just falling back on the nightly restart.

None of which matters a jot.  Lawyers need to use the technology best suited to how they practice and that meets their regulatory and other obligations.  Cloud computing is a potent option but many firms have used hosted services for years, if not decades, enabled by broadband Internet or dedicated lines.  Just don’t confuse cloud computing with hosting companies that market themselves as cloud.