Gartner Muddies Cloud Message

Last Updated Oct 27, 2009 9:40 PM EDT

Cloud software vendor NetSuite held a small event for potential customers today at the New York Stock Exchange, where CEO Zach Nelson rang the closing bell. But I bet he would have liked to take the hammer to Gartner analyst Jeff Woods, who gave a rambling presentation earlier in the afternoon that would have been utterly incoherent were it not for the fact that he was following the script of a well-worn PowerPoint presentation.

The gist, I think, of Woods' presentation is that cloud computing -- services which allow customers to lease information technology infrastructure and applications over the Internet -- is the future of enterprise IT. And while cloud computing already seems to be all the rage, he said that future generations (PhD candidates in Woods' imagination) will mark 2010 as the year we will have become modern. The era we're living in now, said Woods, is still "pre-history."

So far, so good, I suppose, as far as Nelson was concerned. We're living in the past, and his company's applications represent the future.

Woods' presentation was called "The Impact of Cloud Computing on ERP Applications," but it should have been called "Everything You Wanted to Know About Cloud But Were Afraid to Ask (But Don't Ask Me)." Now as far as I'm concerned, seeing a consultant smash the pitcher of software-hyping Kool-Aid would be refreshing, but Woods was like a sex education teacher talking to a class of seventh graders. If the audience was sophisticated enough to understand the cloud, he was talking down to them, and if this was their first exposure to the cloud, all he did was frighten them.

I think that Woods wanted to show customers that he wasn't "in the tank" for cloud computing, but muddied his message with a presentation of cloud computing "myths" that left audience members unsure of whether those "myths" were valid concerns after all, or concerns that used to be valid but weren't anymore, or simply figments of someone's fevered imagination.

His presentation was really a hash of contradictions. He pooh-poohed the idea of vendor lock-in, but then warned potential customers about the dangers of vendor lock-in; he extolled the virtues of cloud computing as a way to freeing IT departments to do better things than simply manage servers, but then warned them that their internal customers could make a hash of cloud deployments unless they took charge of them.

Afterwards, Nelson felt obliged to contradict Woods a number of times. For instance, Woods warned prospective customers that the cloud wasn't necessarily right for every situation, and Nelson emphatically closed his presentation with "walk, don't run, to the cloud."

And while Woods had tried to make the case that the real benefit of cloud computing revolution isn't cost savings, but rather unlocking innovation, Nelson, who understands that cost reduction is often the first motivation for switching to cloud computing, said that "the cloud done right can massively improve productivity."

And where Woods warned that the cloud computing paradigm doesn't guarantee better customer service, Nelson said that it "Changed [information technology services] massively in favor of customers."

Not that Woods would have disagreed with anything that Nelson said; if he had, it would have been a worthwhile debate. But Woods's presentation didn't even cause waves. It put a few folks to sleep, but those who remained awake seemed more confused than challenged.
  • Michael Hickins

    Michael Hickins has written about technology and business for BNET, InformationWeek, InternetNews.com, eWEEK -- where he was executive editor from 2007-2008 -- The Curator, Pseudo.com, Multex Investor, Reuters, and Conde Nast's WWD.com. Hickins is the author of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, a collection of short stories published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991. He also published Blomqvist, a picaresque novel set in 11th century Europe, in 2006. Hickins remains passionately interested in the intersections of business, technology, politics and culture, and endures a life-long obsession with baseball. He is married with two children and lives in Manhattan.