I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the word “Cloud”. It’s too marketing-oriented, gimmicky and non-specific. A better definition (in many cases) is “Distributed Computing”. That means that some or all of the computing functions are handled somewhere other than under your specific control.
But there is a current use of the word “Cloud” that does not necessarily mean that the computing is done somewhere else. In fact, it’s a vector of Cloud Computing that can better be termed “Utility Computing”. This has to do with the provisioning of a computing resource. That means the setup, configuration, management, balancing and so on that is needed so that a user – which might actually be a developer – can do some computing work. To that person, the resource is just “there” and works like they expect, like the phone system or any other utility.
The interesting thing is, you can do this yourself. In fact, you probably already have been, or are now. It’s got a cool new trendy term – “Private Cloud”, but the fact is, if you have your setup automated, the HA and DR handled, balancing and performance tuning done, and a process wrapped around it all, you can call yourself a “Cloud Provider”.
A good example here is your E-Mail system. your users – pretty much your whole company – just logs into e-mail and expects it to work. To them, you are the “Cloud” provider. On your side, the more you automate and provision the system, the more you act like a Cloud Provider. Another example is a database server. In this case, the “end user” is usually the development team, or perhaps your SharePoint group and so on. The data professionals configure, monitor, tune and balance the system all the time. The more this is automated, the more you’re acting like a Cloud Provider.
Lots of companies help you do this in your own data centers, from VMWare to IBM and many others. Microsoft's offering in this is based around System Center – they have a “cloud in a box” provisioning system that’s actually pretty slick.
The most difficult part of operating a Private Cloud is probably the scale factor. In the case of Windows and SQL Azure, we handle this in multiple ways – and we're happy to share how we do it. It’s not magic, and the algorithms for balancing (like the one we started with called Paxos) are well known. The key is the knowledge, infrastructure and people. Sure, you can do this yourself, and in many cases such as top-secret or private systems, you probably should. But there are times where you should evaluate using Azure or other vendors, or even multiple vendors to spread your risk. All of this should be based on client need, not on what you know how to do already.
So congrats on your new role as a “Cloud Provider”. If you have an E-mail system or a database platform, you can just put that right on your resume.