SaaS, PaaS or IaaS – nobody rides for free

14 04 2011

“The mountain is high
The valley is low
and you’re confused on which way to go” – Free Ride, Edgar Winter Group

In the 1970’s a buddy and I decided to hitchhike our way across the country. Occasionally we would catch a ride with someone whose bumper sticker declared a desire to be compensated for hauling us to the next stop. That iconic 70’s bumper sticker came to mind during yesterday’s VMware Cloudfoundry announcement. Brilliant demo after brilliant demo ticked off but I still had this nagging sense that, just like our trip across the USA, there is still no free lunch to be had, particularly in the cloud.

“But”, you might complain, “look at all the open source software for cloud, the cloud is Free!” Indeed the last 8 months in the cloud have been unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the IT industry. The speed of innovation has been breathtaking and the competition particularly brutal. Starting last July with the announcement of OpenStack, a free, Open Source IaaS platform that, when delivered, will instantly crush the business of about 20 odd Cloud Stack vendors, to yesterday’s VMware announcement of the next major turning point in the cloud – Cloudfoundry – a free Open Source PaaS platform that will instantly dissolve the business of the dozen or so PaaS vendors (including one of VMware’s own products VMForce) the cost of cloud software has been a race to zero.

Both of these stacks are awesome and the prospect of being able to stand up either or both of these types of clouds with no software cost is just unbelievable and inspiring and downright cool. That is until you realize that you still have to manage the underlying systems of these clouds.  Whether its racks of computers, storage and network gear in your own datacenter or zillions of virtual machines in a public cloud provider you will need staff and tools to keep your cloud engine running. Both IaaS and PaaS stacks do a great job of obscuring the supporting technology and, like the idiot lights in your car, can make you complacent about the humming hardware underneath the hood. So with software now free, hardware prices dropping exponentially and datacenters getting more efficient (reducing power costs), the only real costs left are the management costs. The people and the tools to help them manage the infrastructure are more critical to success than ever before and, while management has traditionally been a back burner IT component, it is often the most critical and costly part of a cloud system at any layer – SaaS, PaaS or IaaS.

We returned from our 70’s journey a bit older and a lot wiser about the world. As you make your way into the cloud remember that, as alluring as it sounds, it’s not free.

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