Synopsis: Organizations, particularly smaller organizations, may be able to utilize cloud computing to increase efficiency and decrease vulnerability.
Linus Pauling's 1975 book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, describes a UCLA experiment incorporating two strains of bacterium. One strain could manufacture the amino acid tryptophan and the other could not. Both strains were put together in a medium containing the amino acid. The strain lacking the capability to produce tryptophan flourished while the other strain died out.
Dr. Pauling concluded that the burden of carrying machinery for producing tryptophan was enough to cause the synthesizing bacterium to be overtaken by its more efficient competition. He said that if an animal can obtain a substance as a food, "it is advantageous to the animal species to rid itself of the burden of the machinery for synthesizing it."
Businesses have a surprising amount in common with living organisms. As Michael Rothchild points out in his book, Bionomics, both organizations and organisms survive through specializing in a market niche where they can minimize competition. And they both learn, adapt, exploit and grow through consumption of information. In living organisms, this information takes the form of genetic blueprints recorded through DNA. Corporate information, on the other hand, is captured and maintained in databases.
From Mainframes to Micros
Legions of IBM salespeople ushered in the mainframe era by convincing organizations to build their electronic information systems in-house. Data processing rooms housed the equipment and databases, and MIS departments coded the applications to meet specific operational requirements. Employees accessed information via dumb terminals or simply through distribution of computer generated printed reports. While the mainframe model was efficient, it was limiting as well. Users might wait in an MIS queue for months to get a simple report created.
The PC era has turned this situation on its head. Now users can generate their own reports in Excel in minutes, but as a result of the disparate applications and data stores comprising traditional data centers, frequently have difficulty in finding and accessing information outside of their immediate sphere of influence. Unlike mainframe computing which was designed as a comprehensive stack encompassing the physical infrastructure as well as operating system and applications, the client-server model, driven by departmental level budgeting decisions, often evolved rather haphazardly over time. The resulting mishmash of equipment, applications, data stores and management processes often fail to interoperate effectively and are inevitably expensive to maintain and support.
Deploying virtualization as a data center platform not only reduces equipment and facilities costs through consolidation, it transforms technology islands into managed pools of compute, storage and network resources. Rather than incur the expensive and time-consuming process of purchasing servers and storage to enable a new application, a department can rapidly receive preconfigured virtual machines already load-balanced, protected via fire-wall settings and set up on the correct VLAN.
This private cloud model of Infrastructure as a Service is still in its infancy, but will undoubtedly prove to be very effective for larger organizations which can easily justify the investment in new equipment and software. They also are more likely to have the qualified IT staff available to manage it. Even so, many are likely to utilize some aspects of public cloud computing such as SaaS or hosted disaster recovery.
Smaller organizations, on the other hand, will be more challenged to implement IaaS. While typically not beset with burdensome legacy equipment and software, they face a more daunting issue in the increasing competition for talented IT administrators. Small organizations may rely on one primary administrator to configure and maintain the infrastructures, virtualization platform, firewall, data base architecture and management processes. If she leaves the firm, they may have difficulty in just finding a replacement let alone bringing the new administrator up to speed.
Learning from the Bacterium
Whether small or large, the cloud computing model holds promise of increased efficiencies, scalability and support by enabling companies to outsource varying levels of their IT infrastructures. Like the tryptophan synthesizing bacterium, organizations unwilling to relinquish their internal equipment may place themselves at a competitive disadvantage.