Thinking about pizza and private clouds

I must have been around 13 when I had my first pizza, courtesy of my neighbours, a warm and friendly Sephardic Jewish family; Flower Silliman, the mother of the family, was, and continues to be, an incredible cook; I took the family to India for a reunion last year, and we had Christmas lunch (!) at her home. (One of her daughters would later become my first ever girlfriend).

And what a pizza it was. The bread was flat, round and unleavened, gently golden. There was a light yet generous tomato sauce, lots of cheese, soft in the middle, a little crisping at the edge; some onion, some garlic, amazing fresh herbs. I keep imagining there was the hint of chilli, but that may just be me…. I like imagining things with chilli. And everything was cooked to perfection. Even today I salivate thinking about it.

It looked a bit like this photo from foodporndaily:

Now my memory’s not what it used to be. Perhaps there were other ingredients in the pizza. Perhaps I was 14 not 13 when it happened. Perhaps I’d already started going out with Flower’s daughter Michal. As I said, my memory’s not what it used to be.

But I still remember what a pizza was. And I still know what a pizza is.

A pizza is not a vegetable.

Apparently this is not a universal truth. According to the Huffington Post, in a story carried last Wednesday, Congress decided that pizza is a vegetable. Confused? Don’t worry. The Gothamist story illustration, reproduced below, may help you:


I read the story, and I was more saddened than surprised. Because I’d seen pizza masquerading as vegetable before.

The recipe seems to run a bit like this:

  1. Take a data centre.
  2. Add two spoons of tomato sauce.
  3. Decorate with the words “private” and “cloud”
  4. Serve
An organisation may want its own data centre, for a variety of reasons. There may be regulatory issues. There may be a demand for sub 30 millisecond latency. The organisation may be risk-averse enough to warrant paying a significant premium for the luxury of its own data centre. All this is possible, natural, to be expected.
But the data centre remains a data centre.
An organisation may want to move towards the cloud — the word public is, in my opinion, tautological when placed in front of cloud — but it may want to migrate slowly. Techniques to make the journey easier are also normal and to be expected. So the organisation may choose to implement public standards — public in the sense of open *and* adopted — in its infrastructure, as part of the process of moving to the cloud. The organisation may choose to adopt a hybrid environment for a period, both data centre as well as cloud, as the estate is migrated piece by piece. And as I said earlier, perhaps not everything gets migrated, constrained by regulation or the need for millisecond speed.
But the data centre remains a data centre.
One of the essences of the cloud is the scalability and flexibility engendered by the existence of fungible resources. You pay for what you need and use. For it to make economic sense, the fungibility needs to extend beyond the boundaries of the firm. Otherwise it’s a zero sum game, as I’ve written about earlier.
There’s a natural temptation to say that if your market, your internal estate, is large enough, then surely you can run your own cloud. But what happens when demand outstrips supply? You will need to acquire capacity for peak rather than average, and then to defray those peak-associated costs. Once you implement for peak, what happens when supply outstrips demand? You’ll still need to defray the peak-associated costs.
Just like when you had your own data centre.
Actually that’s not surprising. Because that’s precisely what you have: your own data centre. A pizza is not a vegetable.
Sometimes an organisation may go even further. It may build an open multitenant infrastructure on public open standards. It may ensure that all its resources are fungible, and trade its way out of peaks and troughs, selling excess capacity to the market and “bursting” excess demand in similar fashion.
Open, public standards. Fungible resources. Trading supply and demand across a host of companies in the market, not just within your corporate boundaries. Now you don’t have a data centre any more. You have a cloud.
Two spoons of tomato sauce cannot turn a pizza into a vegetable. Nor a data centre into a cloud.

17 thoughts on “Thinking about pizza and private clouds”

  1. Can a pizza be a vegetable?

    Yes, if a Patagonian Toothfish can be a Chilean Seabass or if a Prune can be a Dried Plum.

    The real cheese is in the Branding.

    The terms Pizza and Cloud appear to be generic and commoditized. When you speak Pizza Hut or, you start talking real money. Its high time brand differentiation start emerging in the cloud market or else as I said in an earlier comment “Cloud is a Cloud is a Cloud is a Cloud” (pardon me if I got one cloud too many, the numnber of roses in Gertrude Stein’s quote is up for debate).

    Within organizations I see a lot of talk about “cloud” per se but their is no strong brand player like google is for search. has boxed itself in the “Sales” corner, would someone seriously consider a Supply Chain offering from someone called maybe yes but a mental hurdle would need to be crossed.

    I’ll now do a Meghdoot (meandering the way clouds are wont to do ), what do cloud players need to do to make the cloud environment less cloudy? How can their value proposition be distilled in a few easy to understand bullet points which appeal as much to the CEO and CFO as they do to the CIO. The need is to help organizations formulate a cloud strategy whose “feet are firmly planted on the ground even if its head is up in the skies”.

  2. JP, as I mentioned when we met, surely it’s simply the difference between having access to information processing as a ‘Utility’, or wanting to buy and run their own versions – ‘Just in case’.

    The rationale for doing their own thing becomes more difficult to explain as time passes…

  3. Deepak. can’t agree. the cloud is not about branding. we had words for data centre and utility computing before. so the cloud represents something different, beyond the data centre and beyond the architecture of utility computing. the cloud represents flexibility and scalability through openness and fungibility.

    The cloud is about change, about the ability to respond to change: in architecture, in process and in business model.

    This is not to do with per se; and saying that is boxed in the Sales corner is neither here nor there. Whatever did or does will not change the fact that the cloud is the cloud and that the private cloud is tautology.

  4. Absolutely, Dmitriy. To someone who owns a taxi, it’s a car. To someone who uses a taxi, it’s a taxi. But the economics and business model of car are different from the economics and business model of taxi. And calling it a “private taxi” doesn’t help.

  5. I’m tempted to map a hybrid solution to your taxi analogy.. car share? I think I’ll bow out of that one. JP is the undisputed master of analogies.

    If I stick to suggesting a hybrid model is “different” it’s because you buy in the peaks, while allowing internal policy to control a standard load – without the user knowing or caring. Perhaps your ending remarks reflect that.

    However, as I said in a related post a hospital may have a backup generator, but that doesn’t mean it’s fit to be an alternative power supplier.

    There certainly is no future in private clouds, but until the future arrives a pizza can be thought of as a vegetable.

  6. If you build a cloud and it looks like a data center to you, then perhaps you have built a private cloud that the public can use. You as the cloud owner still have all of the issues of capacity planning and building to an unknown peak load. Your customers are going to be very unhappy to find out that you are running a private cloud when they all need resources at the same time.

    If you build a location to house some physical assets and create a cloud system that can burst into other physical assets for resource, or economic, or other reasons, then you have a cloud. I’m not sure this exists today.

    I think you still have a bunch of handwaving and hot air about cloud. But in reality, you have cloud providers who have a large (or even several, or one, not so large) private computing facilities (data centers) who are calling themselves cloud providers.

    Those who are truly using the cloud today, have to actually build a system that will use several of these cloud providers and hope they have chosen them wisely (or just luckily most likely).

  7. Couldn’t agree more, Craig. Those who are truly using the cloud today have to build systems that can use several infrastructure providers. But I’m biased, I know what you can build, and I know you know how to build a cloud infrastructure and cloud services. The capacity to burst out and to “burst in’, let others take up your slack, is critical. Without it all you have is a zero sum game. Data centre, possibly a great data centre, but still a data centre.

  8. @david I’ve thought about car share too; one of the earliest posts I wrote on this talked about high occupancy vehicle lanes and the rest. Sharing is a key attribute. If all the people sharing something belong to the same firm, then it’s zero sum all over again. Once you share *beyond* the boundary, and you can burst out and burst in, then you have cloud.

  9. Sharing is key attribute, yet the nature of humans is not all sharing, it’s quite personal. And Apple’s products and market cap reflects this architecture. Highly powerful not at all shared personalized devices combined with Cloud sharing of stateful information. In tow and rowing fast as they can to duplicate Amazon, Google, Microsoft. Props for anyone photographing JP beta testing the “Salesforce smartphone”…(sneaking suspicion its called Cricket).

  10. If JP IS testing a smartphone, I’m tipping it’s called “Sachin” :)

    Agree, JP – “private cloud” is non-existent, and “cloud” doesn’t need the “public” qualifier. And there’s now plenty of smart software that will allow you to *manage* a hybrid environment (whether transitional or permanent) as if it were a single “installation” at the infrastructure level.

Let me know what you think

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