The same old song? Former senior government exec provides yet another interesting take on the cloud

Posted on June 13, 2011


It’s the same old song, but with a different beat . . .

from the hit It’s the Same Old Song by the Four Tops (1965)

Ian Burdon, who is the Director of Strategic Business Development at Elcom, and a former senior executive with the Scottish Government, offers the following bitingly relevant take on the myriad of points raised in last week’s cloud computing series.

A business acquaintance of mine was, in a former life, a senior executive at IBM.  When “Cloud Computing” was first explained to him he realised immediately that it was essentially what he had promoted at IBM as “Bureau Computing” reinvented for our time.  Then he begin to laugh, observing that, having made a fortune moving the world to distributed computing, the IT industry was poised to earn another fortune putting that process into reverse.

Veterans of Network Computing in the late nineteen nineties will no doubt have a familiar glow of recognition too.

Cloud computing is not a technical term, it is a marketing term and much of the activity which passes for analysis and comment is neither more nor less than a form of demand creation through marketing. More accurately it is marketing for a particular consumption model which does not pay sufficient (or sometimes any) attention to underlying business needs.

It is not obvious that the model of ICT as a “utility” is an entirely happy one.  ICT is a multifaceted and generic term encompassing a range of products and services and is not a single product; ICT may often be vapour but it is not gas.  A good case can be made for the provision and consumption of some services and applications as utilities – but this is hardly a new phenomenon.

That “cloud computing” is something of a portmanteau term which encompasses several shades of meaning and activity led to brutal criticism from Oracle’s Larry Ellison in 2008:

“The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we’ve redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do. I can’t think of anything that isn’t cloud computing with all of these announcements. The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women’s fashion. Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It’s complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop? We’ll make cloud computing announcements. I’m not going to fight this thing. But I don’t understand what we would do differently in the light of cloud.”[1]

Similarly, software innovator and guru Richard Stallman said of cloud computing that

“It’s stupidity. It’s worse than stupidity: it’s a marketing hype campaign,”[2]

Here at Elcom we have been providing software and platform as a service since 1998 and, in 2002, powered the Scottish Government as it went live with one of the earliest and most successful examples of what we would now call Cloud Computing – eProcurement Scotland.  The only box in the NTIS criteria for a cloud service which ePS does not fully tick is that it is paid for by subscription rather than by transaction but that is by the choice of the customer.

So I chuckle when I read the latest froth in the trade press around “Cloud” issues and marvel at the money being raked in to discuss something which is not new.  What is new, of course, is the delivery channels in an age of convergence of (a) data and telephony and (b) fixed and mobile devices.  Convergence and other developments raise seriously exciting possibilities for transforming what we do, but these aren’t the things being discussed.

Do you have an opinion on Ian’s take on computing in the cloud?  Remember to use the comment section within this post to share your thoughts on this as well as the other commentaries from industry experts.