Cloud IT as an Architectural Style

Martin Kuppinger from Kuppinger Cole, known from the excellent European Identity Conference, wrote a very interesting article on Cloud Computing: “It’s not about the cloud – it’s about Cloud IT“.

But the more you dive into the topic of cloud computing it becomes obvious that this cloudy thing of “cloud” (usually associated with the Internet and things which are provided there) isn’t the key thing. The key to success is that companies understand the value of Cloud IT.

What does this mean? Cloud IT stands for consequently using cloud principles in IT – and in every part of IT, not only for consuming some external services. That includes

  • well defined services (SLAs!!!)
  • a consistent service management across all services, regardless of where they are running (and, based on that, consistent approaches to cloud governance)
  • applications which are agnostic of where they are run or which hardware resources are available – there have to be parameters which might limit the ability to run applications everywhere and the application has to accept the currently available hardware resources but as well should understand that these resources can change dynamically

Defining everything in IT as services in a consistent manner is a fundamental change and the foundation for a flexible use of cloud services. Once you have made that move you can decide (based on parameters of a service) which service provider (internal or external) you will use. Thus, the first step is making your IT “cloud-ready”, e.g. moving towards a Cloud IT. Without that, using cloud services will always be sort of tactical and not strategic.

On the last day of the 2009 edition of the European Identity Conference I participated in a workshop on Cloud computing and Identity with Martin. In the workshop I told Martin that for me, an architect, the most interesting aspect of Cloud Computing is not the ability to house your application logic externally but a renewed and global attention for various architectural patterns.

The underlying current for most of these patterns is a high degree of abstraction and transparency combined with simplicity (not the bad kind, the good kind). In other words: keep it simple, abstract away everything that is not part of your application and don’t care about the environment you are running in (for instance network transparency). The advantages of following these principles are becoming more obvious due to Cloud Computing: scalability, continuity, flexibility, reusability …

Those patterns can equally be applied to classical internal IT. Yet, you rarely see this except at the application level. Cloud computing forces you into this thinking, traditional IT however gives you enough escape hatches. Not in the least because vendors keep on selling solutions that stifle innovation. As a simple example you can take the infamous network transparency. Demonstrated over and over again in the last 3 decades to be achievable (see for example the Inferno operating system) yet most commercial solutions still expose the network to you. So many good “inventions” but so little uptake from vendors.

In conclusion: I can only join Martin in his advice: get your IT cloud ready, move to a Cloud IT. Even if you will never ever actually move to the cloud. And more importantly, put pressure on your vendors to force them to innovate!

[edited: corrected some typos and grammar]

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