tower disappearing into the clouds
PHOTO: YIFEI CHEN

Depending on whom you believe, cloud computing goes back as far as the early 1960s, with J.C.R. Licklider and the introduction of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (a.k.a. ARPANET) or as recent as 2006, when former Google CEO Eric Schmidt purportedly coined the term “cloud computing” at an industry conference. 

Whichever origin story you buy into, the cloud has clearly taken off and with it, business, IT and marketing leaders are clamoring to assess where things are now and where they may be headed.

What follows are five fundamental observations about the cloud today (in no particular order). I hope these thoughts from the front line are useful and maybe even a bit of a provocative look at the cloud.

1. The Cloud Is Actually Expensive

If you see someone advertising "Cheap Cloud," be skeptical. Keep the basics in-mind: that is, to effectively migrate some or most of any company’s operations to the cloud and to provision the right technology and infrastructure takes resources, mainly in the form of time and money. Plenty of options exist to do so, but the fact remains that investment is required, either in the hiring and training of qualified staff to address this internally, partnering with outside consultants, or often times a mix of both. 

The good news is the agility that comes with being on the cloud pays off in the intermediate to long-run. What’s more, it’s becoming clear in the urgent communication we see from organizations not yet on the cloud that if you don’t do it, you’ll fall behind — which creates its own kind of costs.

Related Article: 10 Ways Cloud Computing Will Evolve in 2018

2. You Don’t Need to Be Exclusive 

The fact is, you can’t be exclusive as a business looking to operate effectively on the cloud. Consider that even mid-sized organizations are dealing simultaneously with providers such as Salesforce, Oracle, Amazon and potentially Microsoft to fulfill business cloud requirements. There really isn’t a one-stop shop at this juncture to deal all at once with core business disciplines such as sales, technology, online retailing, data storage and more. Over time, look for this to change, but for now, the concept of open relationships make sense in the world of the cloud. 

This challenge affects not only companies looking to migrate to or expand their presence on the cloud, it all stands to affect any and all service providers. To that end, typical managed service providers need to evolve their services to compete and grow.

3. The Cloud Doesn't Negate Everything That Existed Before, But It Definitely Changes the Game

Technologists with highly specialized skills matter now more than ever. However, yesterday’s sys-admins and storage admins are today’s security and networking people.  The landscape is changing at pretty rapid pace, so the concept of being nimble is more important than ever, both for organizations working on the cloud and for their employees and consultants. 

Related Article: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

4. The Cloud Is More Than Storage 

People are running their entire enterprise on the cloud and it’s still more complicated than you might think.  Entry-level cloud deployments such as data storage and basic employee-to-employee communication and collaboration are pretty well established by now. However, with entities such as Oracle, Microsoft, Amazon, Google investing billions in cloud-based business segments, many companies are clearly betting that the cloud’s potential is going to be realized in much more sophisticated ways. That is, as a vehicle to effectively address core business needs such sales, data storage and management, commerce, cross-company communication and more. Data storage is still key, as we’re seeing play out in the next observation:

5. The Cloud Is Adding Data Centers to the List of Endangered Species 

Traditional data centers are not yet obsolete, but it’s coming. Look at the decline of hardware as a parallel example. Companies like Dell, HP and others made their bread-and-butter by selling machines based on a pre-cloud paradigm. Now, there’s still some need for hardware, but it is decreasing at a time when cloud-based applications are on the upswing. 

Similarly, as more data is stored and managed on the cloud and as old-school management becomes more comfortable with this reality, the need for traditional data centers for basic storage will plummet. The nimble data centers stand to thrive as needs become more sophisticated and less focused on sheer volume, but those who’ve not been paying enough attention will be affected.