Q&A: Nicholas Carr on 'the big switch' to cloud computing

Author says cloud approach is reliable enough for many apps, but warns about vendor lock-in

Nicholas Carr

Nicholas Carr

In addition to security and reliability, one of the top concerns among IT execs is how to avoid getting locked into a particular vendor's cloud service. Any advice you can share on that?

I think buyers should be worried about lock-in. If we're going to have the kind of interoperability and standardized data formats necessary to ensure fairly easy migration among vendors, it's going to have to be the buyers pushing the vendors to move in that direction. Unless the buyers make that a demand for doing business with a vendor, I fear that we'll see a lot of vendors, even if they talk a good game about standardization, actually pursue strategies to make it hard to get off their clouds, to quote Mick Jagger.

How concerned should CIOs be about the possibility of Microsoft, Google and other heavyweights coming to dominate the cloud?

When we look ahead and try to figure out the ultimate structure of the cloud or the computing utility industry, there are a lot of open questions. But when we look at the infrastructure side, it certainly appears to be a very capital-intensive operation. So we're seeing companies like Google and Microsoft spending billions of dollars a year, and that leads me to believe that because of the capital expense of building these networks, there's going to be a relatively small number of suppliers who can afford to build them out.

So that in itself raises some red flags. But another question is, what about the services, the applications that ride on top of that infrastructure? Will that remain sort of a separate business with lots of providers competing? Or will the Googles of the world kind of suck up those applications as well?

So will we see a small set of vendors holding power over both the infrastructure and the applications?

That I don't really know. Regulations will play some part in it -- and also the ability of a company like Google to innovate in a way that's attractive for businesses, which it really hasn't done very much of yet.

How do CIOs go about making "the big switch" without decimating their IT staffs and placing their own jobs at risk?

One of the advantages of the cloud is that it allows you to not only reduce your capital expenditures in IT but to reduce your IT staff. And if it didn't, it wouldn't be that attractive because IT labor costs are such a big part of IT costs. So as CIOs look ahead, they should come to grips with the fact that this may mean that their empire may shrink.

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