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Pick Your Bridge January 18, 2010

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership, Technology.

Regular readers know that I have some strong concerns about cloud computing, especially in the arena of security.  I’ve enjoyed a number of vigorous debates with both vendors and fellow CIOs regarding their comfort level with cloud-based services.  Personally, I’m comfortable moving small, non-material business processes to the cloud, but will continue to manage my core business applications in my own data center.  Other CIOs are at different points on this spectrum, with valid reasons for their decisions.

Invariably, many of these discussions reach a point where a proponent of cloud stuff will point out that some very large companies have made big commitments to cloud technology, moving some or all of their infrastructure and systems to the cloud.  The implication, of course, is that if these big companies are comfortable with the cloud, I should be, too.  As my mother would be quick to point out, if these companies were to jump off a bridge, should I jump off too?

There is a comfort in following the paths of others, but there is no guarantee of success.  The only thing that matters in a decision like this is what is important to your company.  Other companies are making decisions based on their own criteria; they may or may not match yours.  Simply assuming that large companies are somehow smarter than you may not be a wise decision.

In the classic Simpson’s episode Krusty Gets Busted, Bart’s idol, Krusty the Clown, is accused of robbing the local Kwik-E-Mart. The entire town of Springfield rises up in opposition to Krusty.  Bart is horrified to find that even his father Homer has turned against Krusty.  Bart complains, “Dad, you’re giving in to mob mentality!”  To which Homer replies, “No I’m not, I’m hopping on the bandwagon!  Now get with the winning team!” In the end, of course, Krusty is exonerated when it is discovered that his evil sidekick, Sideshow Bob, was the real culprit.

So many technology decisions seem to become a choice between mob mentality and joining the bandwagon. In reality, what others do should not factor into the decisions we make for ourselves and our companies.  We need to make a decision based on the unique merits of the case.

That said, critical market mass should be factored into a software or system decision, since it affects long-term maintenance and support pricing.  Nonetheless, simply assuming that something is right because others are doing it is a poor decision process.

CIOs have to pick their way through these minefields everyday.  Where will you find yourself today? As part of the mob, happily on the bandwagon, or following someone off a bridge?  What would Bart (or your Mom) think?

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1. JohnD - January 18, 2010

Many of Wall St’s top money managers would also do well to pay attention to this topic, as they regularly seem to rely upon mobs, bandwagons and herds to create market movements and bubbles that many wiser independent thinkers have tended to avoid.

2. elliotross - January 19, 2010

I agree – (with the Wall Street add on too!)

While I understand that when “Big Co’s A, B & C” are doing it” does provide some validation (ie they can do better due diligence than I can)

We still have to look at our own issues –

One thing that gets poorly documented outside of the US are legal risks.

Who owns data in the cloud? Me, or You?

It is not just semantics either – as a Canadian company – if I do business with Cuba, but my data is in a cloud in California, Am I going to paid a visit under the US Patriot Act?

Ditto for various European ‘Safe Harbour’ laws.

If I am an engineering company and my “trade secret” data is in a US cloud provider – forget about thinking just security as ‘hacking’ or data loss – how about ‘legal’ government action!


3. Andy Blevins - January 21, 2010

Really two interesting topics here -1) Cloud computing and 2) How vendors work to influence buying decisions

On the cloud computing topic I definitly agree that there are some important data and flexibility questions that need to be answered before it becomes the common solution for the masses. I don’t see the argument being “CAN the cloud handle this application, or that slice of data” and more “SHOULD the cloud handle this application or that slice of data”.

This topic is something I’m neck deep in every day – I spend alot of time reviewing and comparing cloud vs. hosted vs. on-prem conversations with my customers around email.

Your second topic around the “herd mentality” with regards to “If such and such huge corporation has done this it must be golden, their requirements are much more complex than your are!” is just as interesting. The truth is that all vendors spend a lot of time and alot of dollars finding those first big names that are willing to make the move to their technology. Many times that business is bought, and many times those first customers have some very unique needs and limited constraints on how to get needs met. At the end of the day it boils down to a sales and marketing tactic, and I think its a good one. Its important to get a steady stream of strong brands confirming that YOUR brand is worthy of their business. People feel more comfortable knowing that someone else has gone down the same road and ended up with the same conclusion.

Those people talk, and apparently they talk to Chuck, and try to convince him one way or the other using the same technique that the sales and business development folks use – “Yeah, but is doing it!”

One last note – I’m rambling: Big companies often have suprisingly uncomplex requirements, and in some cases do very poor due diligence. Just because they’re big doesn’t mean they are better at making IT decisions, or have more stringent requirements than a shop with 5,000 employees instead of 100,000.

Thanks for the interesting post!

4. Steve Lindsey - January 21, 2010

I think cloud computing has value in three situations:

1. Your organization is not very good with technology/security. This can be because you organization is too small (e.g. Mayberry Police Department) or your people aren’t very good (e.g. a local government entity that can’t pay competitive wages).

2. IT is not strategic to your organization (e.g. it is not a core competency).

3. You have low value applications (e.g. student email for a one semester class).

Cloud computing is not a one size fits all solution. It is just another option to solve business needs in a very competitive world.

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