Late last year I was asked to provide some inputs to Paul McFedries, as he wrote a book on cloud computing. That was my first interaction with Paul. I bombarded him with blog entries, documents etc., very curious of what would come out of the exercise. At HP Discover in Las Vegas, I finally managed to meet with him personally and he handed me a copy of the book titled “Cloud Computing: Beyond the Hype”. Frankly, I’m really impressed on how he managed to describe the essence of cloud computing in simple terms without the usual hype. I felt compelled to ask him some questions because of this. I am sharing the answers with you because they give a good perspective on the book.
Paul, if I remember right, this is your first book on Cloud Computing, how did you approach this book?
Actually, a while back I wrote a book on Google Chrome OS and doing personal computing in the cloud, so it's fair to say that Cloud Computing: Beyond the Hype is my first business book on cloud computing.
My approach to this book came out of reading a large number of white papers, journal articles, blog posts, columns and media stories about cloud. I found that although many of these pieces were well-written and well-researched, they were aimed squarely at cloud insiders: IT personnel, CIOs, pundits, and so on. To any cloud outsider, these texts were nothing short of impenetrable, festooned as they were with cloud-related jargon, acronyms, and techspeak.
Imagine (I said to myself) that you were a non-technical person who needs to understand the cloud from a business perspective. Imagine, further, that you were a business leader — an owner, a CEO, a manager, a team leader — who has heard some of the cloud computing rumblings or who has employees or colleagues clamoring to move to the cloud. How can that person possibly evaluate whether a move to the cloud is a prudent idea if the only available sources are almost impossible to decipher? How can that person decide what is hype and what is hope in the cloud market if the cloud press and pundits assume you already know the difference? How can that person understand what cloud computing is if even so-called "basic" or "for dummies" cloud material is written by people who've long forgotten what it's like to not understand the cloud.
So my approach in writing this book was to really start from first principles and assume the reader is not a cloud insider. I begin at the beginning (as the King said to the White Rabbit), so that non-technical readers can follow along and truly learn about cloud computing from the ground up, so to speak.
Who do you see being the audience for this book and why should they read it?
I wrote the book assuming I was talking to a business leader, such as a business owner, a member of the C-suite (including CIOs who want ideas on how to talk about the Cloud with general management), an operations VP, a line of business manager, a project manager, and so on. I assumed this person was either interested in evaluating whether the cloud was a suitable place for some aspects of their business, or was getting pressure from team members, employees, colleagues or cloud vendors that the cloud was the place to go. So this book presents the reader with a clear-eyed, non-partisan, vendor-agnostic, jargon-free account of cloud computing and how to evaluate it for business.
Beyond that, this book is relevant and useful for anyone interested in cloud computing and how it relates to modern business. I normally write "how-to" books, but this is a "what-is" book that can be summarized as a 250-page, business-oriented answer to the question "What is cloud computing?" Anyone who is curious enough to ask that question will benefit from reading my book.
You mentioned that, reading blog entries published over the course of the last several years allowed you to gain some insight in the history of cloud computing. Could you elaborate on what you meant?
At its best, a blog is a mirror held up to the current state of whatever topic the blog discusses. The best cloud computing blogs also mirror the current state of cloud technology and the cloud market, so reading entries is a way of recapitulating recent cloud history. The oldest entries have a gee-whiz quality to them, where the writers are marveling at the wonders of this newfangled cloud technology and its apparent potential to reduce costs and increase efficiency. This led to a period of unintentional hype and hucksterism, as cloud pundits extolled only the benefits (both real and imagined) of cloud and refused to see (or talk about) the pitfalls.
Fortunately, reality soon set in and the cloud conversation became more balanced, with discussions of both the benefits of cloud and the downsides, particularly the security of the public cloud.
With that history in mind, where do you see cloud computing going? Do you feel it is becoming mainstream?
Unlike many recent technologies that have bitten the digital dust, it seems clear to me that cloud computing has a kind of inevitability to it. On the consumer side, we're all moving some aspects of our lives to the cloud, whether it's via iCloud, Google Chrome or Windows Live Services. This also occurs via online software-as-a-service offerings such as QuickBooks Online and the Microsoft Office Web Apps. Business leaders aren't immune to this general drift, so it's a rare business nowadays that doesn't have a foot in the cloud waters, whether it's a pilot project or two, an online development platform or a private cloud.
The only thing holding back a full-blown business adoption of the cloud is security. This is particularly true with respect to public cloud offerings and the compliance requirements faced by many businesses. However, I see this as a hurdle not a barrier, and 10 years from now not having a cloud component to your business will seem as anachronistic and shortsighted as not having a network would seem today.
In some sectors, cloud computing is already mainstream. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that if you were thinking of starting a new business, particularly one that was computing-related or heavily IT-dependent, you needed a huge up-front investment just to afford all the servers, storage, networking devices, and other infrastructure. I wonder how many good or even great ideas never saw the light of day because of a lack of capital? Cloud computing changed all that by removing the barrier of high up-front computing costs. Why spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to get the IT portion of a business off the ground when you can rent cloud-based servers or platforms for pennies an hour? This is the fundamental question faced by many startups today, and huge numbers of them are taking the cloud route.
In your mind, what are the key elements your readers should keep in mind once they have finished the book?
Although I readily admit in the book that cloud computing might not be the right fit for some businesses, at least not yet, I expect that once people really understand the cloud and how it can benefit their enterprise that most readers will finish the book more than a little excited about the possibilities. Given that, if you find yourself fired up about cloud computing and its potential to transform your business, you might be tempted to just get on with it already. After all, the business landscape is shifting under your feet as you read this, and the pace of change is only going to get faster. You're convinced the cloud is the place to be, so why delay the journey?
To put it another way, you've got the starting gun in your hand, why not just pull the trigger to start the race? The reason why is because at this point you don't know where the gun is pointing, and ready-fire-aim is a dangerous way to do business. To remedy that, I advise the reader to concentrate on the aiming. In other words, take some time to develop a strategy for moving some or all of your IT operations into the cloud.
Any final words of wisdom?
Just that it's important to remember that cloud computing isn't a step-by-step, one-size-fits-all technique for doings things in the cloud. There are many paths to the cloud and many destinations once you get there.
If this interview got you interested, don’t hesitate to buy the book. If you do that prior to end of July and use promotion code VB1M2012, you will get 25 percent discount.. Let me take a minute to thank Paul for this excellent down to earth book that explains what cloud is all about and how you can address it from a business perspective. This is a must read for any CIO wanting to embrace the next big shift in information technology.