Friday, January 30, 2009

How one editor cuts through the cloud computing hype

Earlier in the week, I posted the first part of an interview I did with Derrick Harris, editor of the late On-Demand Enterprise site. He offered a few thoughts of his own about the state of cloud computing before heading off to his new gig with GigaOM.

Highlights from Derrick's interview so far: he thinks the table is set in 2009 for some major strides in cloud computing, despite the economic downturn. Why? Cloud computing's value prop is, plain and simple, impressive. Not that it won't be rough out there for customers and vendors this year. Derrick wasn't willing to go too far with predictions for that very reason. I can't say I blame him. Especially with those two competing forces currently dominating the landscape on cloud computing: the unflappable vendor hype machine counterbalanced by the bleak reality of a super-cautious, recession-inspired IT spending environment.

In the concluding part of the interview, I asked Derrick to talk a bit about how as a journalist he weeds through everything people tell him, especially with a topic as popular as cloud computing, to help IT management readers find the really useful nuggets.

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: There's obviously some criticism out there that all the cloud stuff is way, way overhyped. Do you feel it is? How do you avoid falling into that trap as a journalist?

Derrick Harris: Over-scrutinized maybe, but definitely not overhyped. As I might have made clear, I'm a firm believer in the cloud. The problem as I see it is that it's still so early, but some commentators seem to expect cloud solutions to be as mature and robust as their legacy counterparts. Pardon the cliche, but we need to give the seeds some time to grow.

I also see an issue with too much coverage, especially as it relates to the outer edges of what is considered cloud computing. I wrote several blogs over the past few months bemoaning how everything is labeled as cloud computing, even if it is little more than SaaS or consumer Web services (e.g., iPhone apps). This leads to unnecessary terminology saturation, as I don't think too many consumers consider what they're doing to be cloud computing. I try to avoid this trap by constantly reminding myself that my focus is on commercial use (for the most part), as well as by drawing distinct lines between cloud computing and cloud services.

DCD: What part of being a journalist following this space is the most interesting?

Derrick Harris: I have two favorite parts. One is watching Amazon continue to expand the scope of its cloud operations into areas unfathomed when EC2 was first announced, and the other is speaking with start-ups about why their solutions are the next big thing. Across the board, everyone is just so excited, which makes it fun to cover.

DCD: What part do you dread?

Derrick Harris: Journalistically, I dread having to decide where to draw the line between what is cloud and what is not. Every publication has its editorial scope, and as more vendors (and, increasingly, managed hosting providers) try to leverage cloud computing's good will, it becomes difficult to decide what's cloud and what's something else -- and then figure out where, if anywhere, that something else belongs within a given site.

DCD: What happened with On-Demand Enterprise? Was the bad economy the publication's death knell, or is it a commentary about the level of interest in this topic (which would seem odd, given that all of the other pubs are currently covering the same topics very aggressively)?

Derrick Harris: A lack of advertising revenue is a surefire killer of any publication, so the economy definitely bears some of the blame. Of course, that explanation ignores other factors that no doubt played into the decision to suspend publication, among them the increased competition to which you alluded. Both the company and I knew it was somewhat risky to change from the established GRIDtoday to the, essentially, new On-Demand Enterprise, but we also knew it was the right decision. Unfortunately, a confluence of factors just overpowered our best intentions.

DCD: In our Cassatt 2008 data center survey, respondents said they got most of their information about the data center energy efficiency topic from vendors rather than "independent" industry experts. How do you think IT folks are getting their information these days? How is this changing and how rapidly? What should/can industry publications (or even vendors, since, apparently people do listen to them for some things) do to help them?

Derrick Harris: I hope soon that IT folks all will be getting their information from GigaOM (kidding, but not really). Seriously, though, I think for many topics, including energy efficiency, vendors are an abundant source of information (albeit biased information) because news publications are too busy debating whether a particular paradigm can work. I understand that a key role of the press is to question authority (in this case, IT vendors), but IT users are results-oriented people, and if information about how they can best leverage cloud computing is more useful to them than a commentary on why cloud computing will never work, they will seek out what they need regardless the source.

I see tried and true areas like storage and networking covered very well by the IT press, and I think this is rapidly becoming the case with technologies like virtualization or energy efficiency, and whole paradigms like cloud computing. Outside forces are making certain things even more important to readers, and as publications become more comfortable with these technologies, they can provide the kinds of information that readers crave. From a publication's point of view, it needs to make sure a trend is for real before it starts publishing best practices and acquiring granular knowledge.


Thanks to Derrick for the interview. I suppose I should update our blogroll to remove Derrick's old On-Demand Enterprise links, but I think I'll wait until he kicks off his new role at GigaOM. Oh, and Derrick, I hope they spring for a new photo for you.

One final comment: following up on one of the topics Derrick and I discussed, Cassatt is putting the finishing touches on a new data center survey to see how attitudes and plans about data center operations, cloud computing, and energy efficiency have changed since last year. We'll share that as soon as we have all the data in. Results from the Cassatt 2008 survey are summarized here (no registration required), or available in more detail in this white paper (quick registration required). Change has been the watchword in politics and the economy over the past 12 months; will data center operations be any different?

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