Much of the discussion surrounding the cloud focuses on the minutia: how it scales, what's a reasonable level of service, how is it managed?
Many organizations fail to see the big picture that accompanies that first cloud deployment, namely, how it will affect legacy infrastructure. This is more than a question about hardware and applications, mind you. At its heart is a debate over whether IT will continue its role as the overseer of the enterprise data environment.
To be sure, the cloud represents a unique opportunity to shed much of what organizations have spent the last 30 years or so building up. On the bright side, it offers the ability to ditch the vendor dependencies that have evolved in the purely physical world. As ZDNet's Larry Zignan pointed out this week, many of these relationships are akin to a bad marriage - enterprises sticking with their vendor/spouses more because they have to rather than want to, but perhaps getting a little service action on the side.
The top vendors are not blind to this reality, which is why many are offering arrays of services on their own, with the added benefit that they supposedly mesh better with that still-valuable legacy infrastructure. Still, this is relatively new territory for them, as noted by InformationWeek's Charles Babcock, and they are having to contend with the likes of Amazon, Rackspace and others who were built from the ground up to focus solely on service delivery.
Still, it's perfectly reasonable to expect many large organizations to maintain both cloud and legacy infrastructure for a while longer. This won't be as easy as it sounds, however, as the two environments can have vastly different architectures. At a minimum, say Ben Rosenberg, president of management systems developer Advanced Systems Concepts, legacy infrastructure will need broad virtualization and a highly advanced automation stack in order to maintain data flow into and out of the cloud.
Then again, continued maintenance of aging legacy infrastructure might place many established firms at a disadvantage against more nimble, cloud-based upstarts. Chinese platform giant Huawei is in fact betting that the cloud will give third-world firms a leg up on first-world rivals by offering top-tier data services at extremely low price points. The company's John Roese says today's vendors need to be careful not be become too complacent when it comes to their legacy product lines.
From a pure technology perspective, the most exciting thing about the cloud is that no one is certain what's going to happen. Things will be different, certainly, but exactly how is, well, cloudy.