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Cloudwashing Goes Pro

The basic pattern is that the customer doesn’t really want Cloud, they really want something else, but they want us to call it Cloud, so that’s what we’ll do.


Cloudwashing has always been one of the greatest challenges of the emerging Cloud Computing marketplace. At its core, we define Cloudwashing as saying something is Cloud when it really isn’t. This form of obfuscation is popular among software vendors and managed hosting providers who want to jump on the Cloud bandwagon but whose offerings aren’t yet up to snuff. Cloudwashing is also popular among CIOs and other IT denizens who want to convince their bosses that they’re really doing Cloud when in fact they aren’t.

This pattern of exaggeration isn’t unique to Cloud, of course. Any time there’s a new approach or technology that is difficult to implement, people on both the sell side and buy side of the IT marketplace will trumpet their successes with the new approach, regardless of whether they’re really up to speed on the new technology.

In fact, the rise of SOA in the 2000s was fraught with the same sort of obfuscation we’re seeing now—only we didn’t call it Cloudwashing, of course. This intentional mass confusion over SOA had many similarities to today’s Cloudwashing, but there were some important differences. Because SOA was an architectural approach, vendors couldn’t sell it – not because there was anything wrong or immature about their products, but fundamentally because SOA is something you do, not something you buy.

Cloud Computing, in contrast, is something you can buy. You would think, therefore, that it’s only a matter of time until Cloudwashing goes away. Give today’s Cloud providers (software and hardware vendors as well as the service providers) enough time to mature their offerings, and there will be no need to Cloudwash anymore, right?

Only that’s not what’s happening now – or at least, not all that’s happening. There are a plethora of Cloud vendors and service providers who are doubling down on their Cloudwashing. Instead of maturing their offerings in order to tell a true Cloud story, they have taken a sharp left turn, and now they’re trumpeting offerings that aren’t true Cloud offerings, not because they’re immature, but because they feel that their customers don’t really want Cloud after all.

For the companies who are following this path, here is their reasoning: Public Cloud is scary, so customers want Private Cloud. But Private Cloud is too expensive and difficult, so they don’t really want Private Cloud, either. What they really want is managed hosting. Or perhaps: the customer says they want SaaS, but they really want a Web-based application. Regardless, the basic pattern is that the customer doesn’t really want Cloud, they really want something else, but they want us to call it Cloud, so that’s what we’ll do.

What is so frightening about this trend is that in many cases, these vendors are right. Their customers don’t really want Cloud. Sure, they want to say they have Cloud, but they have various business reasons to shun the essential characteristics of Cloud Computing. Unlimited elasticity? Our application architecture doesn’t support it. Automated self-service provisioning? We don’t trust our users. Pay as you go pricing? No clue how to budget for that. Fully automated operational environment? Won’t work with the hodgepodge of equipment we currently have in our data center. Multitenancy? Yuck, sounds like computing in a public restroom – who knows what kind of scumbag is in the next stall.

But of course, these doom-and-gloom Cloudwashers are not always right. True Cloud Computing – elastic, multitenant, self-service, automated, pay as you go Cloud Computing – is huge, and it’s here to stay. Furthermore, true Cloud is making plenty of inroads into large enterprises – big companies and government agencies with plenty of legacy to go around. So what’s really going on here?

The underlying story is one of transformation. Cloud Computing does not just represent new ways of procuring IT assets or software. It represents new ways of doing business. Cloud, along with other transformative trends in IT including the rise of mobile technologies, the Internet of Things, and the Agile Architecture that facilitates the entire mess, are in the process of revolutionizing how businesses – and people – leverage technology. And as with any revolution, the change is both difficult to implement and impossible to understand while it’s happening. The choices facing today’s executives are far more complex than is it Cloud or isn’t it, or should we do Cloud or not. Instead, the question is how to keep your eye on your business goals as technology change transforms the entire business landscape.

Jason Bloomberg is Chief Evangelist at EnterpriseWeb, where he drives the message and the community for EnterpriseWeb’s next generation enterprise platform. He is a global thought leader in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture. He is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer, and he also serves as blogger for DevX. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution: How Cloud Computing, REST-based SOA, and Mobile Computing are Changing Enterprise IT (John Wiley & Sons), was published in March 2013. Prior to EnterpriseWeb he was President of ZapThink, where he created the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, and ran the LZA course as well as his Enterprise Cloud Computing course around the world. He was also the primary contributor to the ZapFlash newsletter and blog for twelve years. Mr. Bloomberg is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in August 2011. Mr. Bloomberg’s book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). He has a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).
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