I still don’t really understand what CLOUD is and WHY it is a game changer.

So, without revealing names or confidentialities, I had a contact reach out to me with this query, and so, I though that maybe, just maybe, there may be others who may be in a similar position. So, hopefully this helps and doesn’t obfuscate with the curse of knowledge.

Q: I’m trying to get my head around all this ‘CLOUD” spruking and sales blurb being spread around. With all of this talk about cloud and how it is a game changer, I know as a small service provider we need to consider it and that we are being left behind but … I still don’t really understand what CLOUD is and WHY it is a game changer. 

I need to get the actual concepts before I can work with the business, and make sure that we build skills and where possible be able to come out of the next 3 to 5 years in front. But as a small business, no one seems to have the time to explain any of it to us.

 ——————–

So, the cynical pragmatical view of is this: The term “the cloud” was essentially a metaphor for “the Internet” and was what it always was in every diagram of the last twenty or thirty years. Since then, a number of concepts have been swallowed and simplified by the sales and marketing muppets – to refer to practically anything that is sold “as a service” – specifically remotely via the Internet – as being “in” the “cloud” – until that phrase become the snowball that collected enough momentum to create an industry avalanche. Thus the term today.

That said, the new terms behind it are no different from the old ones subjected to us primarily in the 80s and 90s – “as a service” offerings – which were always popular *in theory* but their downfall was *always* the logistical ends – i.e. if you wanted to sign on to get “Great Plains” in a “Software as a Service” offering, you needed to find a company that supplied the offering, then you had to *connect* to that supplier, which often meant purchasing ISDN trunk and tail connections to and from each of your office locations to aforesaid supplier. Even if you used the internet as your trunk, it often meant organising virtual private networks to make it happen – which often neither eliminated the need or costs of the tail pipe requirements.

So, with the combination of the proliferation of internet connectivity becoming so ubiquitous in our everyday lives, the whole “as a service” drive was restarted in a great part when Google launched gMail and made it possible to access it from a variety of devices from “anywhere”. The expansion of the “Mail as a Service” offering to then include calendar, documents … and that really kick-started the return of that conversation.

So, long story short, we now have a range of “cloud” offerings –  SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform …), IaaS (Infrastrucure …), StaaS (Storage …), etc – basically, XaaS (Everything …).

The major difference here between it simply being a range of re-badged offerings is that we are now talking about the commoditisation of a great many aspects of XaaS which equates to the realisation of a service that can “instantaneously” scale based on the user’s needs – power, processing, ram, space, etc – all of these things are no longer an issue or perhaps even a limitation.  With the old connectivity logistics removed and the fact that all of the technology has reached a commodity threshold that not only is no longer cost effective for large enterprises to buy (even with all of their discount structures!) – but even at the consumer level is becoming cheaper to utilise the utility pay as you use model for service than the traditional product sets. So …

Google, Amazon, VMware and a host of small players are now all offering a range of services in a range of arenas from SaaS (e.g. Google apps), StaaS (e.g. Box, Drive), IaaS (e.g. AWS) – and recently Desktop as a Service – and some basic browser based versions are even already being offered for free.

The question I would throw back is this: if all of IT is becoming so commodity driven, what are the avenues of competition left? Whenever any market product becomes a commodity, there can only be a limited set of responses, and competing based on cost and price is simply a race to the bottom. If you can’t be the last one standing, the only other question is can you differentiate?

Re-evaluating this same question from the other end, consider the end user experience. The need for a physical box is dropping to the point that, in short, is all but redundant. Since consumers want to access information – regardless of where they are – they are no longer wanting to be tied down to a specific device – and the promise of cloud offerings is thus self-fulfilling as they request more of the services that allow them to “pick up” or simply continue on from “where they left off” at anyplace … and on anything.

Thus, If the user expectations are simultaneously feeding off the services and driving the evolution of services into new paradigm conversations such as including the Bring Your Own Device drive (and the recent pushes towards Bring Your Own App and even Bring Your Own Service) what is the proposition you can offer? How do you steer the conversation to meet the needs of the consuming employee? And how do you also then meet the evolving needs of the business under this new operating environment?

Why do we even need to consider the employees as consumers? It is simple really, the fact that human behaviour is even a factor in this conversation, is because (and here is why all of this is really a game changer) we are not just talking about a technological alteration here, but one that needs to consider the anthropological arts of sociology in the equation because due to a fundamental change that is occurring to the very nature of the workforce- namely that behaviours, attitudes and habits have become altered.

Numbers for permanent staff members have dropped significantly across all developed countries as corporations are utilising strategic workforce planning to create an ability to hire contract staff based on a per project requirement, and not traditional need to maintain the skill “in house”.

If one is no longer going to be reliant on the security of a single employer, then, by extension, they will begin to invest in their own service requirements – needs that will be served by the aforementioned style of services that consider the users ability to work and interact on a far more flexible ribbon than the eight by eight by eight structure of the unionised Industrial Age.

So, How is the next generation workplace going to be managed?

Effectively, this is the question that everyone, IBM, CSC, EMC and even traditional “consumer” product manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, ASUS and Lenevo are all racing to understand, predict and even possibly shape.

All that said, there will always be exceptions. This is why there are differentiators between public, hybrid and private cloud offerings. There will still be a need for physical desktops for niche requirements (e.g. Air Traffic Services) and there will continue to  be a resistance by some to hold onto the existing investments made over the last xx period of time.

Consider, then, that even the largest of the global traditional suppliers – vendors, integrators and “traditional outsource suppliers” – are pulling away from hardware and moving toward providing service offerings, the question you have to ask is – what can you offer?

My suggestion is to think, specifically, “value” and not “thing”.

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