Enterprise Cloud Summit is underway

Alistair Croll opens Enterprise Cloud Summit 2009

Alistair Croll today opened the Enterprise Cloud Summit in Las Vegas by drawing analogies between cloud computing and the early days of electricity generation.

It used to be that companies would have their own generators, they had generator rooms and technicians much like we have server rooms and techies that run them now.

What happened was a major shift; the creation of a grid enabled the separation of electricity generation from usage. Power didn’t have to be next to the work being done. This enabled cost savings for all electricity users and meant that anyone could make use of the grid to power their businesses, not just the largest companies.

The question is, is cloud computing like electricity? Are we moving to a utility model of computing? Analysts agree with this model, utility computing enables burstability, and dynamic capacity management. From an economy point of view, the analogy holds.

But, computing is not a commodity. Electrons are identical, bits are not. You can’t have an electricity breach. Electricity doesn’t lock you in. You don’t need to rebuild your appliances when you change supplier. Electricity is simple and standardised and non-proprietary. You can switch to a local supply (backup generators or batteries) with relative ease. Nobody ever faced an electricity sprawl where they found they had new contracts and suppliers that people within their company had set up. And there are other concerns too – who owns the metadata for example (such as Flickr stats)?

Differences aren’t the only issue. When you have nothing elasticity sounds awesome. Risk gets pushed to the cloud.

As an enterprise, more known/fixed costs. Smaller variable costs and therefore less potential benefit. Plus, enterprises will drag their feet. Resistance to change. Investment in existing components and apps. Lack of dev environments.

Grid electricity was a disruptive technology, that both caused problems and created opportunities. Cloud computing will do the same.

One of the biggest problems cloud computing creates is that of moving data. It takes 6 years to move a petabyte over dialup. It’s still cheapest to move data physically rather than via cloud APIs. For example, Flickr only works because I don’t download all my data every day. You can’t be half cloud any more than you can be half pregnant.

Adopting the cloud requires fundamental architectural changes. But there are advantages, which we will find out about over the next two days…