In Silicon Valley, the saying "it's a dessert topping and a floor wax" is often used to puncture the pretensions of a product that promises that it can address every need; it's applied to products claiming oxymoronic qualities. For example, the saying would be applied to a product that claimed to perform network management and word processing--two different, mismatched, and disharmonious functionalities.
I'm reminded of this when I listen to a debate common to cloud computing discussions. One person will assert that cloud computing is less expensive than the traditional IT infrastructure operations; a second person then says "cost isn't really the issue for IT, what they really want from cloud computing is greater agility," meaning rapid provisioning of infrastructure resources.
IT Costs Matter
Those who claim that IT organizations aren't really focused on cost, but are much more attracted to cloud computing's agility characteristic, are guilty of wishful thinking. Oftentimes, this claim is stated by vendors that cannot compete on price with other cloud providers (that is to say, Amazon).
In my experience, IT organizations are extremely focused on cost--not to the exclusion of other important factors, of course, but, given a situation of relatively even capability, cost will be the tie-breaker that directs the decision. This reflects a general rule of thumb in business, which is that cost is a factor, even if not the most important factor; it is, however, never ignored. The fact that in most businesses IT is considered a cost center means that price of its inputs is even more important. Given technology's relentless pace of innovation, the number of companies that have suffered as their former competitive advantage is eroded by industry developments is legion. The number of IT vendors that have foundered on an attempt to justify a high price in the absence of true competitive advantage is also legion.
Cost and Agility Aren't Mutually Exclusive
The attempt to downplay the importance of cost regarding cloud computing is misguided. However, there is a greater mistake in branding cost and agility as conflicting choices, with the implication that choosing one means forfeiting the other. The fact is that low cost and agility both depend upon the underlying foundation of cloud computing: automation. It is automation that supports both lower costs and agility, and both of them equally reflect its nature.
Cloud computing represents the automation of virtualization--the replacement of manual system administration by execution of scripts. By marrying script execution to virtualization, the provisioning process is streamlined and shortened in duration. Instead of the days to weeks a manual provisioning process can take, automated execution can accomplish the task in minutes. A side benefit of automation is that human error is reduced, so the process is typically higher quality than manual administration.
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