The Cloud as the Modern Deus Ex Machina

Loraine Lawson

Whenever Greek playwrights managed to put their heroes into too-tight-spots, they would rescue the hero through the deus ex machina, literally, god from a machine-a reference to a deity appearing on stage from a trap door. In ancient Greece, apparently it wasn't too contrived to have a god leave the clouds of Mount Olympus to magically resolve all the hero's problems.


It's silly, right? Even the ancients figured that out. In Ars Poetry,, the Roman poet Horace admonished, "A deus ex machina should not be introduced unless some entanglement develops which requires such a person to unravel it."


Yet, here we are lo these many centuries later, and we're still looking to the clouds for a deus ex machina to solve all our problems. We don't call them Apollo or Athena or Zeus, of course-but perhaps the names IBM, Microsoft or HP ring a bell?


I couldn't help but think of the ancient Greeks while reading Forrester VP and principal analyst James Staten's recent piece on ZD Net, "How much infrastructure integration should you allow?" He points out that these vendors are offering converged infrastructure solutions that promise to solve your data center integration problems.


And, really, he makes a darn good argument for why this isn't a bad deal for enterprises. You should read the whole piece, but here's a quote that captures the essence:

And some of these vendors are packaging their solution so you can simply drop them in as a virtual pool and expand them with highly repeatable building blocks-Cloud Legos, essentially. And the major hardware manufacturers have proven that their superior QA and integration capabilities can churn out known good configurations in high volume and lower cost than we can build them ourselves. This is why we don't build our own corporate PCs or servers anymore. So who's to say we shouldn't let them integrate and drop ship full infrastructures for us?

The thing is, the Greek dieties weren't really into doing things for free. They liked paybacks, and as it turns out, the cloud deus ex machina also wants sacrifice. In this case, it involves you potentially committing to vendor lock-in, which Staten points out.


However, there is another issue besides vendor lock-in worth considering. As SOA and cloud consultant David Linthicum warned in March, cloud computing is not architecture in and of itself:

The larger fear here is that those leveraging cloud computing without good architectural context are destined to find that cloud computing actually complicates their existing IT issues. This is really about a carefully planned configuration of IT resources that bring the best value to the business, not about what's hyped and what's popular. That's how many enterprises got into an architectural hole. It's time to stop digging.

ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg recently expressed a similar concern about organizations using the cloud to buy their way out of problems, rather than doing the hard work of addressing the questions head-on. Like Linthicum, Bloomberg suggests companies need to develop their own vendor-neutral architecture-or plan, if you prefer - that looks at how to use the cloud without relying on cloud as the solution. And he's pretty blunt about why:

What we're finding, however, is a broad understanding among many CIOs that over the years, vendors have oversold and undelivered on low-cost, fast, agile offerings. The move to the Cloud is meant to address those issues, so the last people you'd want to go to in order to deliver better, faster, cheaper are the very same vendors who gave you poorer, slower, and more expensive the last time around. Why trust them to get it right this time?

Oddly, smaller companies may actually be in a better position to use cloud as a smart component of an overall solution, while large enterprises may be more prone to relying on cloud's deus ex machina. In response to Staten's post, Cirrhus9 CEO Mike Michalik writes enterprises will quickly embrace these "drop-in" solutions, which smaller companies won't be able to afford. Instead, he writes, smaller companies will have to rely on hybrid configurations.


Cloud computing and integrated solutions can certainly be a good thing, but the best stories happen when heroes resolve their own conflicts and troubles. Don't rely on someone else to save you. Take the lead and make sure cloud computing fits into your architecture, rather than the other way around.

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