It’s my favorite Christopher Nolan flick and I bring it up because it reminds me a lot about how I feel about everything “cloud” related. The concept of cloud feels a lot like scenes from a movie where bizarre, yet slightly familiar shit is happening and we all find out at the end that IT WAS ALL A DREAM! (Not what happens in Inception. Promise.)
What is the cloud? And who cares?
The cloud, as I see it, is two things:
- A place you store data that isn’t on your local hard drive
- A marketing opportunity.
In IT, buzzwords are all the rage, and admins HATE it. Usually this hate centers around the idea that a term is purely marketing buzz and doesn’t really apply to anything real admins would care about. And for the most part, you could say that about cloud – it gets thrown around a lot like a buzzword. The rub here is that cloud *does* mean something.
Cloud – the buzzword – is the bad dream. Cloud – the everything – is the reality you wake up to.
Cloud history lesson
Cloud is not a new concept – it is essentially the Internet, which has its root in the 1960s. Ever been in a sales meeting? Or interview? What did the person at the white board always draw to show interconnected networks? A FRIGGIN’ CLOUD!
The first cloud storage provider? Compuserve, which offered a whopping 128k in 1983. Since then, we’ve been firmly seeded in the cloud. Your BBS. Your AOL chatrooms. Your Blackberry emails. Your Friendster profiles. Your iTunes. Your tweets.
If you’re not up to date on your cloud terminology (real clouds, that is), a cumulonimbus cloud is basically a cloud Frankenstein – a cloud that is a series of cumulus clouds that develop into a thunderstorm.
The current “cloud” IT strategy is becoming just that – a maelstrom of storage and compute. And marketing is latching on to it because cloud truly *is* everything. It’s already established in our datacenters, whether it’s NAS, SAN or HTTP protocols. We’re already storing sensitive and important data in it, whether it’s a public cloud, a private cloud or hybrid cloud. We’re already running virtual machines in it. We’re sending and receiving emails and texts in it. For everyone that hates vendor lock-in, guess what? You are experiencing cloud lock-in.
But cloud lock-in is not all bad – we’re getting some really cool and innovative technology out of this. Openstack. Docker. We’re also, as consumers, getting a metric ton of cheap storage due to the competition the cloud is driving. Ever price out Google/Amazon/Microsoft cloud? They’re practically giving away hard drives.
And storage vendors are starting to play along, as CloudONTAP from NetApp is showing.
What are the challenges?
Part of the problem with the marketing message that’s floating around is coming up with creative new ways to say “Buy our stuff to do the same exact thing you’ve always done!” The trick is to simply accept that the cloud has always been there and is here to stay for a while. The challenges are essentially the same ones faced by IT departments since token ring and Novell.
- Performance – How do we speed up cloud access to data?
- Security – How do we make sure the data we have in the cloud is only accessible by people we want to access it?
- Vendors – Will the vendor I choose be around in 5 years to support me and my important data? Or were they a fly by night startup hoping to cash in on the marketing buzz?
- Availability – Will I be able to access my data?
- Location – Where do I store my data? And what data do I consider safe to store off-prem vs on-prem?
- Automation – How do I make my overall job easier now that my boss wants me to do more?
- Regulations – What sort of rules do I have to follow when storing data in the cloud?
All of the above problems have solutions, as they’ve been answered again and again in IT shops. The issue with the evolving notion of “cloud” is the scale. Rather than 10-100 servers in my own datacenter down the street, I now might have data floating around on thousands of servers across the globe. Rather than one or two hackers trying to get in to my network, now we have global hacker clubs.
As data grows, so do our problems.
How do we wake up?
Cloud – the buzzword – will eventually go away in favor of the next popular buzzword of the day. And that buzzword will probably just be another in a long line of marketing of things you already use and have (looking at you, Internet of Things and DevOps).
But you don’t wake up from the cloud. You embrace it and accept it for what it is. There will always be a need for storage as long as we have the concept of computers.