Thursday, March 18, 2010

Connecting some dots from Cloud Connect: everyone was "all in"

Several folks have asked me what I thought about the Cloud Connect conference (#ccevent on Twitter) in Santa Clara. Even though I was geographically challenged for the first part of the conference because of an East Coast business trip, I made it back in time for some really good content. And judging from the buzz, the part I saw was not the exception. Kudos to Alistair Croll and team.

Here are some impressions I had about the event:

· There weren’t a lot of end users. This wasn’t surprising; there haven’t been many end users at any of the cloud events I’ve been to recently. I don’t take that as damning feedback. It’s where the industry is at this point. Customers are in the early stages. And, as Brenda Michelson has pointed out on Twitter, it’s probably a good thing that customers are too busy to come to something like this right now. It might mean they're busy doing real cloud implementations. But the customer attendance issue is certainly an angle to watch; it has to change this year (and I expect it will).

· The presenters were cloud experts, serious, and focused. The people presenting were experts who knew their topic areas cold. The panels were stacked with the right experts. And, from the company names represented onstage and in the audience, the cloud computing market and the people backing it are very serious. Anyone having any doubts about whether things in the cloud space are going to take off should take note of what vendors were present and their focus. It was the big guys. It was the small guys. To borrow a phrase, it seems everyone is “all in” when it comes to cloud computing.

· The more basic sessions were solid and didn’t waste time on too much definitional hand-wringing. Presentations like John Treadway and Killian Murphy’s session on private clouds were very well thought through and articulated. This was Cloud 101, with all of the back-up of a graduate level course right behind it.

· What’s old is new again. The cloud adoption panel included ING US and Boeing, who commented on just how important some of the older IT disciplines actually are, even though a lot of the force driving adoption of cloudy ways is coming from a younger generation of IT professionals. Just because cloud computing is in the mix, you don't have the right to forget about some of the basic, smart processes and concerns (oh, like, say management) that IT has always had to have in place.

· Other interesting topics that had good content: the reasons behind application mobility and implications to think about (thanks, Rich Miller), thoughts on drivers of enterprise cloud adoption, the legal ramifications of cloud computing and how things could play out ("get your general counsel involved"), and some end-of-the-day brain bending on the implications for human beings if this whole cloud thing means computing becomes ubiquitous.

· Of course, nothing really got solved. But whatever does at a conference? The sticky problems are still the sticky problems. There was a great deal of unhappiness about standards (which resulted in a bit of animosity in the room during the panel on that topic), for example. On the other hand, tracks like Joe Weinman’s on Cloudonomics had some good, meaty content in them and no actual hand-to-hand combat broke out. (CA Distinguished Engineer Steve Oberlin’s posted his comments from the ROI panel here, pointing out that IT often forgets to look past cost savings to the “priceless” importance of cloud computing’s agility benefits.) The cloud networking panel James Urquhart moderated dealt with the realities, the issues, and the promise of that topic – which seemed to provide a good balance.

· The cloud market is a little bit “clubby” still. The people presenting seemed to know about 50% of the people in each of the sessions. That’s good, in that the people who are moving this industry forward are also the ones attending. That’s bad because people often spoke in 140-character code or inside jokes, occasionally had side conversations during their presentations with particular individuals in the audience, and sometimes left some of the customer benefits of cloud computing unsaid. It’s good to be well-connected, but don’t forget to explain the basics at the right times. Especially if we want actual users to attend – and get something out of it.

· Live events like this are all about networking – and Tweeting. This is certainly related to my previous point. In fact, I noticed two healthy Twitter backchannels. The first was commenting on and reacting to the content being discussed onstage. The second was all about putting real faces to the Twitter avatars of folks that many of the industry insiders regularly communicate with on-line. This was a great chance to make real, live cloud connections.

Having said all that, I noticed that Clay Rider posted a bit of an opposing view on the conference. He was looking for insights into a monolithic and (to hear him tell it) elusive “cloud market,” to understand why the vendor focus and VC investment is at such a fever pitch. I’m not one of those strict definition kinds of people, but would rather make sure that we’re simply focusing on what customers want and answering their needs with real solutions. Despite his more negative assessment, I like his conclusion:

“Ultimately, the right answer may be to stop looking for the Cloud market altogether. Perhaps Cloud is really just an intelligent delivery model that addresses the state of art in IT. Maybe Cloud is a process, not a product. As such, things would make a whole lot more sense than the confusing overlap of jargon and techno-obfuscation that so many undertake in the name of the Cloud. This would be a welcome improvement not only in nomenclature, but perhaps in market clarity, which would then help drive market adoption. Money tends to follow well defined paths to ROI. Why should Clouds be any different?”

My biggest regret about Cloud Connect, aside from missing several of the key panels, though, was not being around for the San Francisco Cloud Club’s extended after-hours get-together, focused this time on PaaS. The two previous Cloud Club events I’ve been to were really interesting opportunities to dig into cloud computing issues with a bunch of people who think about this day in and day out.

So, if the Cloud Connect folks could just work around my schedule for next year’s event, that’d be greatly appreciated. Except for the standards panel; I can miss that next time around. Unless, of course, someone follows through on Lori MacVittie’s idea and stages it as a boxing match. That’d be worth changing my flights for.

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