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Cloud computing's secret sauce

Cloud computing can lower costs, but its biggest benefit may be its role in simplifying complex IT operations.

Vivek Kundra Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Vivek Kundra, the federal government's first CIO, said recently that he likes cloud computing because it provides "access to powerful technology resources faster and at lower costs."

That's a great reason and perhaps it will be the key underlying drive behind cloud computing's increased popularity as an IT delivery mechanism. But should it be the reason? That is, are there other, better reasons to move to the cloud?

Yes, there are. Among them, as Dan Woods points out, is the increased control that end users, and not just IT, gains over critical IT infrastructure. While it's hard to assign a dollar value to this benefit, it is perhaps the biggest one of all, and may well be what makes cloud computing go mainstream.

To date, vendors like and Google have been the primary proponents of cloud computing, and why not? For these enterprise upstarts, their best chance of entry into the lucrative enterprise IT market is disrupting the established order. When they talk about ease and timeliness of software upgrades, they're talking as much about the benefits for their businesses as they are talking about the benefits for their customers.

Whatever the self-interest motivating these marketing pitches, the benefit to the end customer is real. Woods points to two particular aspects of cloud computing that make it so powerful--scripts and model-driven configuration. He writes:

What is coming is a new way of running IT made possible by two forms of data center automation: scripts and model-driven configuration. Using both of these techniques, the IT staff can now encapsulate the ability to upgrade and change systems in a series of automated steps that can be safely executed by the end users, those who are in charge of applications.

This isn't to suggest that an average end user (e.g., me) is magically going to start managing data center resources. But it does simplify some of the most complex computing tasks, normally managed by IT, and pushes them closer to those directly affected by the tasks.

It is this simplification that promises the most dramatic shift in computing since Microsoft turned average sysadmins into productive members of enterprise IT society. Early adopters thrive on complexity, but the mainstream wants that complexity removed. Cloud computing accomplishes this, at least in part, by reducing IT complexity to a series of scripts and models.

Along the way I suspect we'll see open-source companies like Puppet Labs and Opscode, as well as open-source savvy companies like RightScale, really thrive. It's one of the first times open source has taken the lead in simplifying IT, rather than feeding its complexity.