Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Benjamin Franklin’s Thoughts On Cloud Computing

I’ve recently been reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and have been marveling at the timelessness and broad applicability of many of Mr. Franklin’s nuggets of wisdom.

A surprising number of them I find quite applicable to Cloud computing, the application service provider model, Software as a Service, or whatever you wish to call your particular flavor and brand of server management handled off-premises by an external vendor.

As I too infrequently do, before writing this post, I actually Googled my topic “Benjamin Franklin cloud computing” just to make sure no one had already identified this connection, and sure enough someone had.  But, hopefully, this post is entertaining and insightful nonetheless.

"I was not discouraged by the seeming
magnitude of the undertaking, as I have
always thought that one man of tolerable
abilities may work great changes and
accomplish great affairs among mankind if he
first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all
amusements and other employments that would
divert his attention, make the execution of that
plan his sole study and business."

What Mr. Franklin is telling us here is that focus and experience are key factors when considering a cloud computing vendor or application service provider.  Do you want to go with a company that has decided recently to offer their services in a hastily constructed cloud computing model, or someone who has made providing services in that model “their sole study and business” for years?

"Partnerships often finish in quarrels, but I
was happy in this, that mine were all carried
on and ended amicably, owing I think a good
deal to a precaution of having very explicitly
settled in our articles everything to be done by
or expected from each partner, so that there
was nothing to dispute, which precaution I
would therefore recommend to all who enter
into partnerships."

Here Ben is pointing out that when you put your data and solutions in the cloud, you are deliberately handing off responsibilities to the vendor.  You and that vendor owe it to yourselves to make sure that you have carefully ironed out the details regarding who is accountable for what, and where the line between included services and extra costs really is.

"In the first place, I advise you to apply to
those who you know will give something; next,
to those who you are uncertain will give
anything or not, and show them the list of
those who have given. And lastly, do not
neglect those who you are sure will give
nothing, for in some of them you may be

Even in the mid-1700s, it was clear to the Founding Father that cloud computing providers can’t effectively spring into action and achieve success throughout the market overnight.  It takes years of disciplined building and refactoring of the entire operating environment, customer service organization, and billing systems to get it all just right. 

Early adopters will naturally light the way for those who are more risk averse, and only after those two groups are satisfied with the results will the masses be swayed.  If you are choosing a cloud computing provider, it behooves you to learn how long they’ve been offering services in that model.

"Human felicity is produced not so much by
great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen,
as by little advantages that occur every day."

Ben is telling us that the key to being happy when handing over the management of your data, your security, your applications, your entire solution, to your vendor is feeling as if you are getting consistent, high value every day. 

Sure, it’s great to see your cloud computing provider swing into action and save the day when there is that rare crisis, but don’t overlook the confidence you develop day by day as the system remains stable, the patching gets done quietly and uneventfully, and the functionality and/or performance are enhanced on an ongoing basis. 

Also consider how well the provider has adapted their customer service people’s work style to suit your company’s needs, as opposed to the other way around.  What greater advantage can a provider offer you than their ability to seamlessly integrate with your own team so you can get mutually ensure that each other’s work on your behalf gets done quickly and effectively.  

"How few know their own good, or knowing
it, pursue. Those who govern, having much
business on their hands, do not generally like
to take the trouble of considering and carrying
into execution, new projects. The best public
measures are therefore seldom adopted from
previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion."

Leave it to Ben to point out that cloud computing offers a tremendous advantage over traditional delivery models in that you can get to work quickly without having to first procure your own hardware, networking, data center racks, etc.  The easier your provider can make it for you to get your application up and running quickly, the easier it will be for you to get approval for that opportunistic project your team just identified.  Cloud computing becomes a valuable addition to your toolbox in this sense, because it gives you an option where previously, all you had were processes and delays.

"When men are employed they are best
contented... [As with] the sea captain whose
rule it was to keep his men constantly at work,
and when his mate once told him that they
had done everything, and there was nothing
further to employ them about, 'Oh?' says
he. 'Make them scour the anchor.'"

Let’s face it.  There is always more to do.  You are never going to have plenty of time to get it all done.  Why NOT take a big chunk of the stuff you have to do but which does not materially push your business close to its goals, and push that off to your cloud computing provider?  That way, you can focus on what is going to make your business more successful, and let your provider worry about making the process of managing your system more efficient.

At the same time, your provider is going to be able to work night and day on making the process of carrying out those tasks in the most optimal, efficient, repeatable way possible, in order to maximize their margins and minimize the effort involved.  You can only benefit from this constant and never ending cycle of improvement and refinement.

"Such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself
might be a kind of foppery in morals which, if
it were known, would make me ridiculous --
that a perfect character might be attended with
the inconvenience of being envied and hated,
and that a benevolent man should allow a few
faults in himself to keep his friends in

The irony of the cloud computing model is that when it’s working, it doesn’t draw attention to itself so no one thinks about how well the provider is executing on a good day,DSC_0011RedBarnFarLeft_100dpi but when it’s not working, oh boy, does it draw attention to itself, and all manner of eloquence is spoken about the provider, as if systems never hiccupped when the solution was in-house. 

Alas, while you will hit that 99.9% or higher SLA on average, when that occasional fluky thing happens that takes the system offline for a blip, and your provider not only fixes the problem promptly, but calls you to inform you of what happened before you even receive any complaints from users, take that responsiveness as a blessing, rather than overly focusing on the fact that the issue occurred in the first place.  No system is perfect, but if you and your provider have planned ahead properly, these flukes will be a relatively painless reminder of how well the relationship is going both day to day and in times of crisis.

1 comment:

  1. I'm noticing that the passages in script do not render well in all browsers. You know what, I wrote this one as kind of a lark, and I'm keeping the script in. Please switch to another browser and enjoy! Looks great in IE, and tolerable in Chrome and Safari.

    Thanks so much for reading! :-) -- Jeff


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