Insights and opinions on Information Technology from George Tomko, a veteran CIO turned renegade consultant.


Do CIOs have their heads in the clouds?

By George M. Tomko

Without a doubt, conference agendas are brimming with cloud computing boot camps, breakout sessions, keynote addresses, expo booths. On top of this are the podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, e-mails, tweets, mailers, brochures and tee shirts touting the ‘new’ technologies collectively known as the cloud.

Is there a bottom-line here, anywhere? Not yet, maybe never. And, besides, if everyone is looking ‘up’ at the clouds, so to speak, there is no ‘bottom-line’ to look at.

There once was a day when almost all computing solutions were proprietary. If you were running applications and storing data on vendor A’s mainframe, you were also using vendor A’s specific network protocols and devices, software, etc. Occasionally, vendor B would have a compatible terminal or tape drive that you could connect. What an era that was for suppliers. Customer lock-in was a great thing.

Of course, computers and related hardware, software and services cost a mint. You might spend $5 million for the latest model of mainframe back in 1980. Then there were datacenters and round-the clock support staff. Massive.

It didn’t take long for people to see that having 3 terminals on your desk, one for each different suppliers system, was not only costly, but annoying.

Are we headed for the 2010 edition of 1980? Could this be, as Yogi Berra has so aptly put it, “déjà vu all over again”?

Well, possibly. Take a look at all of the theater around the open cloud manifesto. By the time this once ‘secret’ document hit the streets, there was all manner of turmoil about how it was put together and what it said. Mary Jo Foley blogged Microsoft fights the ‘open’ fight amid the clouds:

“Could Microsoft really be objecting to increasing the well-being of mankind? I am sure many Apple and Linux users would say it’s possible, but that’s not where I’m betting the problems lie. If this is the same Cloud Manifesto Microsoft is criticizing, my guess is it’s bullet point three that is sticking in Microsoft’s craw: “Openness of standards, systems and software empowers and protects users.””

“Microsoft may be advocating for interoperability and an open process, but the company is definitely not in favor of a document that could be read as backing open-source software.”

Amazon also had their issues as Larry Dignan pointed out in his post:Amazon Web Services: No Open Cloud Manifesto for us

Google did not sign on either. Then the IBM acquisition of Sun was derailed by differences in the board room. Next, we’ll be hearing about the government getting involved.

Indeed, Bernard Golden wrote in “Cloud Computing Meets Washington: Lots of Data Security and Privacy Questions” that:

“… it is difficult for individual companies to determine exactly what their responsibilities are with respect to data being placed in cloud environments. This has the inevitable effect of restricting cloud adoption, as many companies will choose to take a wait-and-see attitude, preferring to avoid taking stepsthat they may later find out are in appropriate, or worse, put them into non-compliance with penalty-laden laws and regulations.”

Scary. We now have a world where very few agree on things that are vital to CIOs and other decision makers that don’t get to do this stuff in a lab or on an expo center floor.

At the end of the day, here is my take at bottom-line questions, considerations and insights:

1) You are betting on ‘promises’ and potential;
2) Unless you are a start-up, or in another situation where you get something close to a ‘clean sheet of paper’, do your business requirements require large and unpredictable bursts of storage and compute power? Are you building your capacity for the peaks but otherwise running low valleys?
3) Early-adopters will bleed out the kinks and determine viability – wait for them.
4) Lower-level infrastructure (read ‘datacenter’) services are your most likely first “buy”;
5) Software-as-a-service is great as long as you are not massively integrated with other things throughout your enterprise or have a significant portfolio of legacy and home-grown apps. ‘Point” solutions or other single-duty deployments are likely;
6) Did you just renew your traditional outsourcing contract? If so, were you offered a cloud solution or is there language in your contract about migrating without penalty at annual milestones through the life of the agreement?
7) Will your staff have to be retrained and are they up to it?
8) Can your budget withstand the uncertainty of demand-based services and the related pressures of accurately forecasting, setting expectations and governance?
9) Is your company likely to be acquired or likely to target other companies for merger or acquisition?
10) If you look at how you have managed your entire data estate, up to this point, will you be comfortable putting that data into ‘space’? This cuts both ways: if your data management leaves something to be desired, this may be an upgrade. If, however, you constantly worry about matters of data security, access, privacy, recoverability, archiving, accuracy and compliance, you might be up late most nights.

Could we be headed back to a future that seems so rooted in the past? I hope not. Someone will have to rise up above the clouds and demand order and accountability. That won’t happen until CIOs, and other important players and stakeholders, look down at the bottom-line.

George M. Tomko is CEO and Executive Consultant for Tomko Tek LLC, bringing game-changing knowledge and experience for transformational analysis and decision-making; planning and execution of enterprise-wide initiatives; outsourcing; strategic cost management; service-oriented business process management; and technology investment assessment. He can be reached at or on Twitter @gmtomko. Profile: