Storm Cloud: The Disruptive Force of Cloud Computing

By Sharon Florentine

‘Disruptive’ is a word tossed around a lot in technology circles to describe new innovations and their transformative effects on the industry. But is this disruption a good thing? Or a bad thing?

That depends on who you ask.

Phil Wainewright, writing for his SaaS blog at ZDNet, believes cloud computing technology is both inherently good and inherently bad.

“There’s a reason we call [game-changing technologies] disruptive. They displace established industries and bring misfortune to those on the receiving end,” he said. Adoption of cloud computing tech in the enterprise is disruptive in a bad way for existing IT hierarchies and in a good way for business and existing revenue models, he explained.

The continuing innovation within the cloud computing space means radical changes to working practices, and the need to learn new skill sets and completely abandon others, sometimes overnight. DBAs, server admins and systems integrators may suddenly find themselves obsolete and suffering, while businesses reap the benefits of increased productivity, outsourced IT administration, lowered costs and increased scalability, Wainewright said.

You could argue that there’s always been this dichotomy between business leaders (the C-level execs who plot strategy and determine budgets and corporate direction) and those IT folks ‘in the trenches’ who must figure out how to execute on those ideas within the constraints of personnel, budget and time. So how is cloud computing any different?

Clayton Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” posits two types of innovation: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining innovation extends the life of existing technologies, improving them incrementally. Disruptive innovation represents entirely new technology solutions that bring a new twist to an existing market — typically at a far lower price point.

He notes that disruptive innovations must seek out new users who are, in Christensen’s term, ‘overserved’ by existing solutions and are willing to embrace less capable, cheaper offerings.

Bernard Golden, CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, blogging at said that while initially Christensen’s assertion is true: “Disruptive innovations gradually improve over time until they become functionally equivalent to the incumbent technology, at which point they seize the market and consign the previous champion to the dustbin of history.”

So, if cloud computing technology is, in fact, disruptive, is that a good thing?

For the users, no. For some businesses, yes.

Again, it depends on who you ask.

Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from data center technology to holistic veterinary care and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.

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