Why defining 'cloud computing' is important.
It seems like every major vendor out there from hardware to software has a different definition of what cloud computing is. I've dabbled a little with the definition on here before, but it still seems like there is a general lack of consensus when it comes to definition. With that said, does the definition matter much? Isn't the business value of the cloud more important than the strict definition? Of course the value is more important, but the definition can have implications with respect to understanding and quantifying that value for your business.
Prior to the release of VMware's vSphere, which consists of ESX 4.0 and the accompanying management platform, the big names in the cloud computing space were Google and Amazon. Google's AppEngine and Amazon's Elastic Compute Cluster (EC2) were it when talking about the cloud. They are both what are defined as public clouds. They exist outside of your business (or data center) and you place all of your information within them. The key here is that they are external to your current infrastructure. VMware seeks to bring that cloud infrasctructure within your data center so that you hold all of your proprietary and sensitive information within your own walls. VMware then offers you the ability to federate or 'burst up' to the public cloud if you need that functionality.
The first part of the vSphere strategy, internal cloud, is defined as the private cloud. This is where you have total control of all resources and information and everything resides within your own data center. The second part, federation, is defined as a hybrid cloud. Here, you use your private cloud until you reach the capacity limit. Then you can federate or 'burst up' to the public cloud to use resources beyond your capacity as needed. You will have to be extra careful that the resources you allow to be federated to the public cloud do not pose a threat if they are exposed or data is compromised. I am not saying that it will happen, as Google and Amazon have high levels of security of their own accord, but it is a matter of risk management for your business. If this is an acceptable level of risk, then by all means take advantage of federated services.
So now that we have defined the cloud a little better, how to we derive the value from the platform. I love to use military terms when defining IT initiatives because they seem to illustrate points better. Tactical missions are those that solve a short term problem. Strategic missions are those that solve long term problems. Because of the high cost of implementing cloud computing (meaning application migration costs,) you should ensure that you are using cloud computing as a strategy rather than a tactical solution. While cloud computing can definitely help you overcome tactical challenges within your organization, the strategic goals of the business are much easier to line up with the platform in terms of TOC and ROI. Building a flexible, robust and scalable infrastructure to deliver services (applications in this sense) to your end users is a strategic value. Within that strategy, smaller tactical issues can be addressed as needed. The fact that you can pool resources and allocate them as needed allows you to address both the tactical and strategic goals of your organization. Please be sure, however, that you do not simply try to address tactical issues without being mindful of the overall strategy.