New Book Demystifies the Cloud

I have avoided that whole “cloud” computing thing as a topic of research, reporting and reading, writing it off as little more than yet-another hyped-up Silicon Valley meme.

But a new book out in May by Charles Babcock pokes through the fuzziness of “the cloud” to bring back some real actionable intelligence.

No book about databases and computer processing is going to be fun, yet Babcock, an editor at InformationWeek, does an admirable job of making the thing readable. How well I relate to the hypothetical executive he describes:

“The CEO has heard that the cloud is “the next phase of Internet computing,” but what that means is now more muddled than ever. He shakes his head as he walks away. If the members of his staff are arguing about what it is, chances are that they’re not going to be able to tell him the thing he most wants to know: how’s it going to affect him and the business.”

I’ll admit to scratching my head over this same issue for several months now. What’s new about outsourced processing power? The idea seemed immediately intuitive and natural. People have been doing this since the dawn of computing. Time-sharing systems, telnet, that whole era before the powerful personal computer seems to be forgotten.

But Babcock lays out some of the ways that businesses can utilize the economies of scale of modern data supercenters to cut costs. The trick is to pay only for what you need instead of over-provisioning with massive IT budgets. When you pay for a heavy iron install, you miss out on the ongoing rate of technological progress. As Babcock points out, “Whatever a given amount of x86 server power cost last year, it will cost half as much next year…”

The tome’s shortcoming is its tendency to oversell the scenarios of the future, where cloud computing inspires innovation, cuts costs and saves the entire U.S. economy. It’s a bit fantastical to believe that we’ll have inexpensive space travel thanks to better access to computing power for entrepreneurial engineers.

Still, much here is worth reading. The book lays out plenty of opportunities for innovation that will inspire startups. It goes far to shine some light on this fuzzily-defined industry and will provide a good cheat sheet for any investor to whom the whole cloud thing has been a head-scratcher.

The Cloud Revolution” is out in May from McGraw-Hill.