Unicorn as a Service – Fogging the definition of Cloud

cloud dilbertIt seems to be the month for mutilating and manipulating the definition of Cloud Computing. As 2013 kicks off the race to capture market share and customers with Cloud is like a shark feeding frenzy.

Why is the definition such as important thing? It’s simple really. True Cloud provides a set of unique business opportunities and these can be lost in the flurry of Cloud washing that is currently dominating the marketing departments of large ICT organisations. Getting locked into sub-optimal, Cloud washed services, is not going to allow you to realise those business benefits.

Why do these guys want to redefine the Cloud definitions? Easy, they don’t have services that fit the characteristics of Cloud and they certainly don’t want to be left behind.

The generally recognised definition of Cloud Computing is written by NIST, you can find the full definition here, and the summary according to NIST is:

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models. “

If you want an good (technical) layman view then the Wikipedia Pages on Cloud Computing are excellent.

I went hunting for some examples on the bending of Cloud definitions and came up with a few quite quickly.

Oracle is generally recognised as one of the worst offenders when it comes to bending the Cloud definition with plenty of online commentators thumping them for their offerings. Oracle sells “IaaS” or Infrastructure as a Service but it doesn’t fit the definition of Cloud.

“The service does not include self-provisioning, auto provisioning, multi-tenancy or the ability to measure service usage on a granular level, all of which are key components to a service being technically considered a “cloud,” Linthicum says. “They seem to be just providing their products using other compensation models, in this case rent,” Linthicum says.”

The author of that particular article goes on to say that Cloud Washing is “rampant” at the moment.

In fact, so rampant is it, that an entirely new phrase has been adopted to describe it. Cloud Washed services are now defined as “Unicorns as a Service” (UaaS), a phrase coined by Heather Booth who goes on to say:

“While cloud washing might seem innocuous on the surface, it actually does more harm than good in the long run. For starters, it only adds to the increasing confusion that surrounds cloud-centric technologies.”

What is slightly more annoying than straight out blatant Cloud washing is vendors and lobby groups taking a part of the definition rather than the whole. This leads to confusion among customers in what is already a confusing area.

Annoying me this week are the Privacy Commissioners “Guidelines on Cloud”, which are anything but, a blog that tries to pass Cloud off “as a service”, and Archives New Zealand’s “Record Keeping Implications of the Cloud.”

The Privacy Commissioner, as detailed in an earlier post, in my opinion is confusing companies across New Zealand by focussing on two very minor, albeit important parts, of what Cloud Computing is. Worse, the Cloud Guidelines seems to extend the definition of Cloud to cover services that are clearly NOT Cloud. I.e. Hosting.

Gen-I’s most recent Blog, “Cloud services: the important word is services”, I think focuses on a single aspect of Cloud, and misses the wider definition. The author makes a number of statements that don’t fit necessarily with a good definition of Cloud:

“The value of cloud computing lies in the quality of the delivered services and the financial elasticity promised by the” as-a-service” model. Soon we’ll stop talking about the cloud. ‘Cloud services’ will simply be called ‘services’. Flexibility will just be inherent.”

In part the statement is true. The value of Cloud computing stretches far beyond financial elasticity. In fact, the old adage of Cloud saving money is well under attack globally, with early adopters finding that it is less about saving money and more about competitive advantage, opening access to markets that were closed before (look at www.xero.com as an example), innovation, and increased productivity.

I don’t agree that we will “stop talking about the Cloud” and go back to talking about “services”, the two are quite different and this is where the confusion starts to become apparent.

Cloud is a particular set of characteristics with a generally accepted definition that can be delivered as a service, by a service aggregator or broker. For example, you could ask your outsource provider to be the broker for any and all of your Cloud services so that you don’t have to worry about it, because worry about it you will.

In fact, for companies like Gen-I, the real opportunity is in that “brokerage” role, whether it is underscored by Cloud services or any other ICT Services. Organisations want a partner who can guide and manage their ICT in collaboration at a business level.

You have to hand it to Gen-I on the upside, at least they are talking about Cloud, localising it to New Zealand, and actually have a blog that can engineer some discussion. Its a positive sign

“Cloud Services” and other general “ICT Services” (Hosting, Anything as a Service, Application Service Provision, Development, Testing, and so on) are all different; all have different characteristics, are not necessarily complimentary, and have different drivers for use.

Archives New Zealand has turned the entire Cloud benefits equation upside down, in a bad way in my opinion, with their thoughts on “Record Implications for Cloud Computing”.

Archives say under the Challenges section;

  • It may be difficult for agencies to administer information kept in the cloud.
  • Cloud-based systems are not designed to manage information over long periods of time.
  • It is difficult to ensure that information is preserved.
  • It is also difficult to ensure information is disposed of properly when no longer required.
  • The proprietary interfaces and programming languages used by cloud service providers can make it difficult to transfer records to another environment.

I don’t agree with these challenges and would counter that;

  • It’s no easier or more difficult to administer information in the Cloud. It’s largely irrelevant and depends on the service you are using.
  • Cloud systems will manage information for as long as you ask them too, just don’t forget to ask.
  • Information is probably better preserved in Cloud given scale and the additional protections that affords.
  • If you control the information, you can dispose of it.
  • Cloud is not proprietary. So if you are in this position you’ve signed up to a Cloud washed service. Cloud is open.

The point with these examples is that each of them has the ability to confuse what is already a confusing topic and it shows that companies in general still don’t have their head around Cloud.

While Cloud does not yet have standards in place, lending it a slightly “Wild West” feel, there are clear and accepted definitions.

At the end of the day, as a company, Cloud may not be suitable for you. Traditional ICT Services may be, whether delivered in-house or outsourced.

My advice is to read up so you understand the differences between Cloud services and traditional ICT services. In addition, define what Cloud means to your organisation. If you don’t, then any old service will do, and you’re likely to end up locked in to something you don’t want.


NIST Cloud Definitions

Wikipedia – Cloud Computing

Cloudwashing: When is a Cloud not a Cloud and how to avoid it

Advanced – What is Cloud? More Cloud Characteristics and Principles

New Zealand: A Code of Practice for Cloud Computing

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