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Better, Faster Infrastructure: The Roots and Effects of the Cloud Revolution

Wednesday, November 20, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: John McDonald, CEO CloudOne
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Editor's note:  This article was contributed by John McDonald, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of CloudOne, who is a member of the East Central Indiana Chapter.  It was a paper presented at a recent IBM conference.  

For a PDF copy of this paper, see:  

AITP encourages other members to submit articles for consideration to This helps us fulfill our collective mission to share IT knowledge among our members.  



Abstract - The adoption of cloud computing is not a technical revolution, but instead is effectively a procurement revolution, led by the desire for economic efficiencies in the deployment of infrastructure and collaboration of skilled workers.




Speaking at the MIT Centennial event in 1961, computer scientist John McCarthy, creator of the term "artificial intelligence” and winner of the Turing Award, Kyoto Prize and National Medal of Science, said:

Computing may some day be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility... The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry.1

Indeed, as far back as the 1950’s, organizations practiced "time sharing”, a popular method of spreading the cost of expensive computing power across multiple teams. However, limitations on data transfer speeds through public telephone networks limited the practice to highly localized pockets of computing power, such as at universities or corporate campuses.

No single technology nor any single moment removed these limitations. Instead, in the past decade a group of technologies have converged to create the conditions that allow for computing resources to be shared broadly throughout the world. In April of 2008, Galen Gruman and Eric Knorr, writing for InfoWorld 2, outlined these components as:

1. High-capacity Networks. These tie together computing resources throughout the world through the Internet.

2. Low-cost Computers and Storage. These offer the ability to provision large data centers at historically low capital costs.

3. Hardware Virtualization. Allows for the time-slicing and sharing of processing power into sub-machine virtual machine images.

4. Service-oriented Architecture. Breaks up large computing tasks into loosely-coupled services, connected by open standard communication protocols.

5. Autonomic Computing. The ability of computers to self-manage and "selfheal” from common problems, making them more reliable in clustered configurations, as no one device provides a single point of failure.

The combined effect of these technologies is to enable the creation of centralized "super centers” of computing, accessible through high-speed Internet connections, stocked with dense clusters of self-healing computing processing and storage equipment, running autonomous "virtual machine” computers. On those computers are portions of software "stacks”, such as operating systems, databases, web application servers and application software, linked together by open-standards communication protocols in a service-oriented architecture. The virtual images are transportable from one storage and/or processor to another, within the same center or to a geographically distributed center for backup or disaster resiliency. We call this combined architecture cloud computing.

These cloud computing centers are effectively the "power plants” of a utility computing model, just as Dr. McCarthy envisioned in his speech at MIT. The Internet serves as the high-voltage, long-distance power transmission lines, while local Internet service providers represent local power utilities in the metaphor, connecting individual homes and businesses to the long-distance transmission network, and billing and measuring for service flow.

Therefore it is not one inventor or invention that created the cloud revolution. It is the convergence of the combined evolution of a list of computing-related technologies that is responsible for the emergence of the cloud-computing model.



In the past, Information Technology leadership spread computing resources closer to users, as linking geographical-distributed users to centralized computing resources was expensive and frustrating. Unfortunately, this simply shifted the expense and frustration to the teams of people responsible for maintaining, repairing and supporting those resources, forcing them to adopt their own complex and expensive methods of performing their tasks.

This created a bit of a "serfdom” of users beholden to those who held the resources and skills to maintain the computing resources required for business functions. For example, complicated methods of prioritizing the provisioning of new servers developed, meaning that no matter how urgent your need for capacity or assistance in your business unit, your requests were prioritized and weighted against all other requests through a central "command economy.” This potentially resulted in delays, extra costs, and frustration if your needs were deemed to be less important than others.

As noted by Teresa Takai, Chief Information Officer of the United States Department of Defense in her July 2012 Cloud Computing Strategy document, the emergence of "power plant” cloud computing centers is enabling a rapid consolidation of computing resources, and with them the skills to maintain those resources.3

This enables lines of business to more freely choose alternative providers of computing power and skills, instead of being beholden to a single internal source for all. This is accelerated by the recent trend to push budgetary authority and profit/loss responsibility to leaders in of those lines of business.

The result is a tremendous pressure on Information Technology leadership, forcing them to evaluate a shift from being the source of all computing power to being the partner in procuring the best of breed technology for business function. In their report, On Demand: From Capacity to Capability, Gartner researchers wrote:

CIOs are experimenting successfully with internally and externally sourced capacity on demand. Within 10 years, they and their enterprises will be able to acquire complex outcomes— capabilities—on demand. This will dramatically change enterprise IT organizations and the software industry that serves them.4

This "democratization” of computing power, placing decisions in the hands of lines-of-business, is the true, core effect of cloud computing. It is not a technological revolution, but instead is a procurement revolution.



Two strong market forces motivate this democratization of computing power: efficiency and the need for global collaboration.

Efficiency is the pursuit of maximum benefits from minimum expenditure of resources. In the cloud computing space this takes two forms: specialization of skills and elastic adaptation to changing business needs.

In regard to skill specialization, organizations are realizing that in many cases the construction and maintenance of computing resources is not a core competency. They are instead seeking vendors and supplier relationships to offer computing resources on demand, tailored specifically to their unique needs.

This concept is not new: organizations have effectively "outsourced” many non-core business functions, such as real estate, payroll, administrative staffing, and more recently office supplies and other business equipment such as copiers and printers. Now the ability to get computing power on demand, in nearly any location, specifically designed to individual needs, is enabling the same "micro outsourcing” of processing, storage and software.

This leads to the next point of efficiency: elastic adjustment of computing power as a direct reflection of usage. Historically, computing infrastructure was sized based on the peak-anticipated load: an attempt to foresee the maximum level of future need and "stockpile” enough capacity to meet that need should it arise. Unfortunately this was essentially an educated guess, and was almost never correct, resulting in shortages of capacity or extreme levels of waste, especially for tasks with cyclical usage patterns, such as software and systems development.

The atomic nature of cloud computing resources allow for micro-adjustments in capacity – storage, bandwidth, software images – so that alongside automated provisioning and autonomic responsiveness, computing power can be provided in lock-step with increased demands, and scaled down just as quickly as needs diminish. This squeezes out inefficiencies in the old "stockpile” method, allowing capacity for diminishing workloads to be automatically redeployed against workloads that are increasing, effectively creating a super-efficient marketplace of computing power in a cyber version of Adam Smith’s "invisible hand.”5

In short, the efficiency driver of cloud computing comes simply from the application of free market economics to computing capacity.

The second driver, global collaboration, also has its roots in market economics. The lack of ubiquitous, low-cost communication technology frequently necessitated the creation of pockets of skills, positioned close to their other collaborators. For example, companies supplying components to a factory often needed to create a nearby local production facility of their own in order to ensure the free-flow of information and quick adjustments to changing workloads. This in turn drove a "balkanization” of skilled resources into small widely distributed pockets.6

The same high-capacity networks have enabled these geographically distributed teams to begin collaborating over long distances in ways never before experienced in global history, as noted by Thomas Friedman:

Never before in the history of the planet have so many people – on their own – had the ability to find so much information about so many things.7

Organizations are now creating centers of competency that service everyone from a smaller number of organizational units, while at the same time alternative work arrangements such as telecommuting and home office workers are increasing the number of physical locations that need to connect to the organization’s network.

This, in turn, is driving the need to centralize tools, data and information into mutually sharable, common collaboration centers where everyone can access the resources equally. Cloud computing fits this bill perfectly, allowing for cloud-based resources that are shared with all, both inside or outside an organization.

This external sharing enables a deeper relationship between vendor and supplier, inviting point-to-point collaborations to speed products to market, reducing cost, and allowing for even more specialized skills procurement on the open market.

Therefore, the cloud computing procurement revolution is all about economics: efficiency in resources and skills, and collaboration on a global scale. These forces transcend technology, and are at the heart of human innovation.



Ever since early computer scientists such as John McCarthy envisioned utility computing, the global technological infrastructure has struggled to live up to the goal. The convergence of the Internet, low-cost storage and processing, virtualization technology and software written to service-oriented architectures has enabled the original vision on a grand scale. Organizations of all sizes are adopting cloud computing not because of these technologies, but because of the powerful economic forces of efficiency and skill collaboration. This is forcing a procurement revolution inside of these organizations, which are turning away from the old methods of inflexible, single-source computing resources towards on-demand resources tailored specifically to their needs. Ultimately cloud computing rests on the desire for better, faster infrastructure.



[1] Garfinkel, Simson (1999). In Abelson, Hal. Architects of the Information Society, Thirty-Five Years of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-07196-3.

[2] Gruman, Galen (2008-04-07). "What cloud computing really means". InfoWorld. Retrieved 2009-06-02.

[3] Takai, Teresa (2012-07). "Cloud Computing Strategy”. United States of America Department of Defense. Public memorandum to secretaries of the military departments.

[4] Hunter, Richard. Iyengar, Partha. Rowsell-Jones, Andrew (2010-12). "On Demand: From Capacity to Capability”. Gartner Executive Programs.

[5] Smith, Adam (1776). The Wealth of Nations. Not in copyright.

[6] Van Alstyne, Marshall. Brynjolfsson, Erik (1997-03). "Electronic Communities: Global Village or Cyberbalkans?”. MIT Sloan School, 1996.

[7] Friedman, Thomas (2005). The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978- 0374292881.

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