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Interview with cloud expert, Bernard Golden

"The main challenge that people face with cloud is understanding the concept" Bernard Golden
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Alice MacGregor
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Alice MacGregor, CloserStill Media
Wednesday 27 August, 2014

Last week I spoke with cloud expert Bernard Golden, VP Strategy at Activestate, a global Cloud Foundry provider, with Stackato. Named by Wired.com as one of the top ten most influential people in cloud computing, Bernard has written and blogged extensively about virtualisation and cloud.

Our chat covered various cloud industry topics, including best practice, policymaking, as well as Bernard’s thoughts on AWS’ recent quarterly net loss.

Do you feel a standard best practice exists for a company migrating to the cloud?

A best practice does not exist yet, however we are starting to see increased convergence. I don’t want to say that by next year it will all be done and dusted, but generally people are becoming more aware of cloud computing and of the way it operates, particularly with the more advanced providers such as Amazon and Google.

The main challenge that people face is understanding the concept; people often feel that cloud computing is kind of like having your own data centre, except somewhere else, or that it’s kind of like colo, except a little different. You really have to learn a new mental framework of how these things operate and take advantage of them. I think that the necessity to see this development as a different beast (rather than virtualisation 2.0 or outsourcing Mk.II), is starting to penetrate through.

On your recent CIO blog, you argued that commentators are wrong to predict long-term trouble for AWS. Can you elaborate on why you believe AWS will still hold strong despite price competition from the likes of Microsoft and Google?

It was Mark Twain who said “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated…” People are overdoing it. I think Amazon is going to face competition, but it has experienced incredible growth, has been growing very rapidly, and is extremely innovative. I don’t think the world is going to end up with one giant Amazon data centre, but the people who are predicting trouble for the company are far overplaying it. A more likely outcome is going to be that these very large providers are going to fight between themselves, and most other cloud providers will be left biting the dust.

You have also written about the future of IT infrastructure and that despite the surge in public cloud adoption it ultimately represents a tiny fraction of overall computing. Do you see this changing over the next ten years or so?

I expect it will change. At least from my perspective, and I would say from ActiveState’s perspective, everything is being driven by application deployment. We are seeing more and more applications being deployed into places like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. I think placement of applications in these environments will grow a lot over the next ten years, which has the inevitable result for existing infrastructure of stagnant growth and ultimate shrinking.

How do you feel legalities and policy making will evolve to keep up with these developments?

This is a very challenging issue. Legal and regulatory frameworks have to evolve; they’re not evolving nearly as quickly as the technology itself. There’s lots of political overlap with bodies like the NSA and so forth.

Privacy of data is probably and quite rightfully, held more strongly in Europe than it is in the US, for historical reasons – I think that’s going to continue to be a challenge with respect to cloud adoption.

Governments are, at best, enthusiastic about cloud computing but they don’t fully understand it and they have a very difficult time translating it into policy that makes sense. Also, as is the nature of legalities and regulation, things move quite slowly, so I think you’ve put your finger on what will be a very large issue. Policy is, and always will be, one step behind technology.

Do you think the actual term ‘cloud’ is here to stay?

I do yes. It’s a good, short-hand, all-encompassing term. It’s hard to see what would replace it. You could imagine that one could come up with a more technically accurate phrase, but then it would always have to come with a descriptive footnote for different settings, environments and applications. It’s kind of like using the term, ‘web.’ If you think about what’s done on the ‘web’; you have content provided over it, transactions being carried out over it, collaboration, social media, and yet nobody says we need to get rid of the term the ‘web.’ With ‘cloud’, it’s kind of the same thing.

Do you agree with the opinion that cloud is less of a technological innovation than a business innovation?

I’m not sure I do believe that. I would say that it’s not purely a technical innovation and that it has operational innovation and some business innovation around it as well. So for example, I think that the notion that you rent rather than own is a business innovation, and a very valuable one. But there is a tremendous amount of technical innovation that goes into it too.
I think it would be easy to say it’s an elaboration of stuff that was already there. For example, with virtualisation, Amazon didn’t invent virtualisation and it didn’t invent automation scripting, but combining the two to create something that people can self-service around – that’s pretty technically innovative.

To sum up, I do think there is a degree of business innovation involved. However, is it just a business innovation? I’d say no.

And finally, you mentioned earlier that people must adopt a new mental framework to understand cloud. Why do you think this presents such a challenge?

I think the challenge for most people with cloud is that they still have expectations about the scope and scale of old IT and keep viewing this new concept through those lenses. The fact is we’re probably going to have ten times as many applications, at ten times the scale and ten times the changeability.

The challenging thing for people is to figure out how to envision an IT world that isn’t like what exists now. What if the IT domain was ten times as big? – What would that imply? How would I fund it? How do I staff it? How would I operate it?

There are enormous implications of this new capability – and this circles back to where we started – we need to establish best practice. Part of what’s going on now is that people are realising there’s a lot more they can do with cloud than they ever imagined. It’s like the web; at first people saw it as a place to upload a brochure and it’s turned into much, much more.

@thestack_alice