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Cloud is not a power utility

If you are sitting in a presentation or having a discussion where the topic includes some comparisons between the cloud computing environments and the supply of electricity. Please! Stop, get up, and leave.. Your wasting your time..

Although there are some similarities, the difference are so extreme it is a misleading analogy.

The reason for the initial comparison was to highlight only a couple of things.  Ubiquitous access and Pay as you use pricing (Utility/Elasticity). In these aspects and these alone there are some similarities;

  • pricing is per unit of power
  • demand and supply are generally variable curves
  • I can plug in to many locations and expect the same service

but the similarities stop there. Practically speaking, your relationship with cloud providers and cloud tool vendors has nothing in similarity with power companies. Your challenge to drive efficiency and add value in the use of your infrastructure has no comparison with plugging in a few environmentally friendly light bulbs and remembering to turn off the lights.

Another classic is the statement supporting the “inevitable” road to true infrastructure utility is; “you don’t generate your own power do you?”.. Well last time I looked, the vast majority of datacenters containing any form of enterprise workload had multiple gensets specifically for that purpose. Should you run your own cloud, just in case your provider has a problem ?

If you think you will be taking your application (analogous to electric appliance) and simply plugging it into the cloud anytime soon, you are mistaken. That process can be a little complicated which is why most of the applications in the cloud today are redeveloped or net-new. If you think you can take you application from one cloud (power utility) and plug it into a different cloud, think again. There are tools available that offer some assistance in this regard, but it is far from plug and play.

Maybe cloud is more analogous to a different utility. I propose cable television as a more likely candidate.

  • I pay a fixed fee (reserved instances), and Pay-per-view (ondemand) for any unsual viewing events
  • My service catalog is large and usually includes bundling of things I don’t want
  • If I want to move my apps, I have to cancel my subscription (if not on a multi-year plan) and subscribe from scratch in a new location
  • I will probably have to replace some of my application because they just won’t work (cable modem on a DSL provider, or DVR)
  • I will never truly be sure of the quality of service, because  the calculation is too complex to visualize
  • Support is not very good and generally provided by some tier 1 resource, I find it hard to get to the right people

The response to this comparison will most surely be; ”Those problems will be solved in time, cloud is on a curve towards true utility”.  Maybe this is true, but as Paul Miller on GigaOm says; “The question is whether this inevitable transition takes us two years or 10″, or 20 or 30.

Is the current generation of clouds more equivalent to the gas utilities of the early 1800′s as they provided light for industrial premises, or do they represent the first electric power supply at the end of the 19th century which only took 40 years reach a similar model of today? Just remember, you can make electricity from a fresh potato, copper electrode  and a zinc electrode. Not sure you can make computing infrastructure that easily, maybe Woz can.. 

I say, lets stop dealing with the arguably distant future and start talking about practical solutions to problems today. Walk out of that presentation and go find someone who talks about how to get value from this thing called “The cloud” today.

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Brad Vaughan is a twenty year veteran consultant working with companies around the globe to transform technology infrastructure to deliver enhanced business services.