The 7 capabilities of Cloud Computing – a review of a recent MISQE article on Cloud

Iyer, B., and Henderson, J. “Preparing for the Future: Understanding the Seven Capabilities of Cloud Computing,” MIS Quarterly Executive (9:2) 2010, pp 117-131.


In this article Bala Iyer and John Henderson research vendor offerings on Cloud to identify “seven capabilities” of services that organizations should consider before implementing Cloud. For them Cloud consists of a stack of IaaS, PaaS and the Application. Interestingly they include Collaboration within their stack – reflective of their focus on Cloud’s association with Mash-ups as the service provided to the user.   This seems useful but does confuse things a little – it is not clear the extent to which these components of the stack are integrated/exploited within a particular cloud offering.

The seven capabilities are then described:

1) Controlled Interface – the capacity for the integrated infrastructure to be responsive to change. In particular the capability of APIs to allow the innovation of applications and services on top of the platform – and the demands of the platform owner in managing/controlling that innovation.  This seems a very important point as platform owners business models are dependent upon the explotation of the platform – ranging from an open platform (like MS-Windows) where Microsoft make money from selling the initial product licence, to closed platforms (like Apple’s iPhone) where money is extracted from application purchase ontop.

2) Location Independence – the capacity for services and information assets to be controlled/exploited without reference to their location. This hooks into a range of themes – from the technical architecture of systems and their capacity for integration, to legislative demands for locations and safe-harbouring of information.

3) Sourcing Independence – this is connected with the concern for lock-in and the desire for organisations to move their application between cloud platforms. They usefully highlight however that lock-in should be evaluated within the company firewall as much as outside it. Companies should evaluate their ability to move between any IT sources and their IT services should be independent of the platform used.

4) Ubiquitous Access – this referes to the ability of a cloud service to be accessed from differing devices and platforms globally. However they rightly extend this to include access to application programming interfaces not simply web-site portal pages.

5) Virtual Business Environments – Similar to the Virtual Machine – this perspective virtualises and integrates tools which support specific major business capabilities. Another way to look at it is a suite of cloud-services and workflows which allow the realisation of business processes/functions within a cloud type environment. By considering such VBE’s the paper hints at Business Process as a Service and the possibilities of cloud services which transend basic service provision and direclty link to business process  – allowing the scalability and elasticity of cloud to link to Business process innovation.

6) Addressability and Traceability – This calls for the ability to verify the history, location and application of data in the cloud for traceability purposes and compliance issues. I would however argue that it is not simply a matter of ensuring tracability – but being able to manage the traces recorded. Our inherent assumptions of the desirability of traceability are incorrect – as Apple is learning through the problems of its desire to trace and record wiki-antena data on iPhones, or the legal challenge and sentence against Google for its (albeit unintended) recording of users WiFi signals within its Google Mapping activity in Europe. Lets remember that sometimes it is better to forget.

7) Rapid Elasticity – The self-service capability of scaling up services. Here the authors make an interesting point – highlighting the need for elasticity in IT Service AND in Contract. Simply having scalable services but pricing which is not reflective of this is challenging.

These are important dimensions of the cloud – and add to the corpus of our knowledge. What is useful is that they are drawn from an analysis of vendor offering – and further that they provide a road-map for strategy. I would urge those interested to get hold of the paper which goes into much more detail on strategic approaches to Cloud and the need for specific IT skills to manage such services. What is particularly refreshing about the article is its focus on mashing together of services – treating Cloud as a patchwork of services rather then focusing too heavily on the individual components.

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