The boundaries that exist today between private and public IT are a concept born of industrial era, hierarchical institutions. This is what David Weinberger called Fort Business. It’s about building walls around the firm, being inside and looking out. The distinction between us and them.
The rise of the term cloud itself comes from business rather than consumer perceptions (for whom consumption of IT as a service over the Internet has been a transparent progression). It’s surely no coincidence that fluffy clouds have traditionally been used on corporate network diagrams to denote something out there that we don’t understand.
I was following the private vs public cloud battle at ECS Interop this week, as it was echoed on twitter. As entertaining as this was, I couldn’t help wondering if, beyond the technical and economic debates, anyone is taking time to think about the social factors that play an inherent part in today’s cloud semantics, and the direction in which we’re heading.
The transition from IT as physical product to public commodity service is an insurmountable mental hurdle for many middle aged IT managers and senior execs. The very idea of it turns their whole world upside down, regardless of the actual risks. What we term “private” cloud is essentially the stepping stone that has been created to bridge the fear gap.
So private cloud is a real thing and it serves a real purpose. But we know from history that it’s only a transitional step, so what happens next?
At Infosec Europe this year I heard Bruce Schneier say that the Internet represents “the greatest generation gap since rock and roll”.
We do not fear what we have always known. We view everything already in existence at the point of our birth to be the natural order of the world – simply constants in life that have always been. When today’s digital natives – our Facebook generation – are running tomorrow’s institutions, not only will these institutions begin to look very different, but there will be no distinction between public and private cloud. It will just be a big mesh of utility computing.
The subversion of hierarchy is already running at full steam; the IT department in Fort Business is being bypassed at an astonishing rate. Business Line Managers are buying IaaS on credit cards, employees are using Google Docs and Yammer for collaboration, Linkedin for their customer contact, Prezi for presentations, Dropbox for filesharing.
As Joe Baguley puts it, the IT department (the department of No) “is just one of the providers in your life”.
As time marches on, shaping our attitudes, our institutions and the way we perceive them, the private vs public cloud battle will become a relic consigned to the museum of human debate; appearing about as relevant to tomorrow’s business leaders as an argument over the respective merits of CDs and vinyl.