Are Enterprise Architects up to the Challenge of Integrating Cloud Resources?


My friends sometimes jokingly call me Cassandra, after the famous soothsayer of Troy. You may recall that Apollo cursed her so that no one would believe her predictions.


It's because I often share little tidbits-gathered from my years as a reader and reporter-that they consider pessimistic, but I just consider factual. What they forget-and what I frequently point out-is that Cassandra was right. No one listened to her, they hated her prediction, but in the end, she was right: The Trojans really shouldn't have pulled that stupid horse into the city walls. This observation is usually followed by an uncomfortable silence.


I thought of Cassandra after reading this blog post on David Linthicum's presentation at the SynsCon Cloud Computing Expo in New York city. It's written by Brenda Michelson, who posted notes on a ton of presentations from the Expo. Her post on Linthicum's talk includes this warning:


"You can't replace enterprise architecture with cloud computing. You can't replace SOA with cloud computing. You always need an architectural strategy."


It's good advice but, like Cassandra's predictions, I suspect it will go unheeded. After all, as this Cloud Computing Journal article points out, companies don't have a good track record with the architecture-first approach, even with traditional solutions:


"Frequently, this difficult situation is exacerbated by non-technical managers who are not aware of all the effort necessary to integrate data properly. As a result, a potentially dangerous and costly domino effect ensues: these executives overlook or ignore the difficulties associated with integration; underlying architecture is sacrificed for speed, yet still many projects are deployed too quickly; users' first experiences are negative; and ultimately, the development team is left in a permanent state of catch-up."


The article is written by David Bressler, the SOA evangelist at Progress Software, and is a recap of his presentation at Cloud Expo. Overall, he takes a much sunnier view of cloud computing and integration:


"Fortunately, cloud computing - essentially an offering where infrastructure is provided as a service - promises to help businesses overcome these challenges. Briefly, integration initiatives based upon cloud technologies see more immediate results, as they do not mandate a time-consuming infrastructure build-up process."


Maybe, but only if companies follow Bressler's and Linthicum's advice to map out an architectural strategy for success.


Bressler provides an outline of best practices to integrate cloud computing with existing IT resources:


  1. Use a mediation layer. "It's the single most critical architecture enhancement a company can make when using the cloud, because it enables the enterprise to change on their own terms and not be dictated to by the external provider," writes Bressler.
  2. Manage your service level agreements, which he notes can be done via the mediation layer.
  3. Understand that security will be managed differently and plan accordingly.
  4. Don't fear mistakes. To me, this seems more like advice than a best practice, particularly since he predicates it on the belief that cloud mistakes are less costly than traditional infrastructure missteps and that you can easily switch vendors if there are problems.
  5. Change your IT culture to support application integration, rather than infrastructure support.
  6. Map out a strategy for success, which includes envisioning "cloud-based computing as enabling the 'network' to be a single application-delivery platform delineated by service interfaces between components."


You can access Bressler's presentation slides-which actually work much better than most online slides - and a related paper from Progress Software's blog, or you can read Michelson's notes.


One interesting note is that both Linthicum and Bressler geared their presentations toward enterprise architects, which raised a question for me: Are enterprise architects actually up to the task of delivering this kind of leadership? Enterprise architects have a reputation of being too ivory tower. When you start to talk about cultural changes in IT, that's going to require more than vague discussions. Maybe, as I discussed during a recent podcast with Linthicum, enterprise architects should step up their game and provide more practical, even tactical, guidance about how to create their architectural goals.


Gartner anticipates cloud computing will surpass $56.3 billion this year to jump to $150 billion by 2013. They're not alone in predicting a huge growth spurt for cloud computing, according to this CIO.com article. If those predictions are correct, cloud computing could certainly provide ample opportunity for enterprise architects to step up their role.


Provided, of course, the business and CIO don't treat them the same way the Trojans treated Cassandra.