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Another Silver Bullet

Posted by rjssqlservernotes on January 25, 2011

Cloud computing is the most recent incarnation of the magic Silver Bullet that will provide for “World-class Service Delivery”, reduction in system costs, fast and easy custom development and deployment, and two of my personal favorites: “Pre-built, pre-integrated apps for cloud computing technology” and “Empowered business users”.  Every time a new software technology emerges the same buzz phrases make the circuit through the management magazines, CIO newsletters, IT conferences, etc. As technologists are we expected to ignore the obvious or play along?

There is no Silver Bullet.  Fred Brooks’ words 25 years ago are as true today, “There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even an order-of-magnitude improvement within a decade in productivity, in reliability, in simplicity.

Figure 1 Cloud Computing is No Silver Bullet

How many Silver Bullets have you survived?  Tools were to save us from ourselves by allowing us to build software using drag-and-drop Structured or Object-Oriented programming techniques, Computer Aided Software Engineering, Standards, and my favorite Ada.  Or, there was the belief that we, as software engineers, merely lacked the disciple to reliably produce software – I particularly recall Yourdon’s treatise titled “Decline and Fall of the American Programmer” as well as the movement to license software engineers.  Or, the answer might be Formal Methods such as, CMM, ISO, etc.  Or, better yet, management methods such as TDD, Agile, Extreme, etc.  As demonstrated in Figure 2 all of the Silver Bullets applied over my career have not resulted in significant improvement in software project success.

Figure 2 Software Project Failure Rate

Obviously, the software industry continues to experiment with solutions to the problem of building increasingly complex software; this is not my complaint, instead I would prefer to see IT management be more tempered in their zest for new technology, to allow for the technologists within their organizations to experiment and provide feedback, to filter the hyperbole before mandating the implementation of the new technology.

That being said, I am not suggesting that cloud computing does not provide benefits; however, there are serious issues yet to be addressed such as, security, reliability, ownership, intellectual property rights, and regulatory compliance.  These issues along with others may limit the use of this exciting technology by some industries, but let’s remember what cloud computing brings to the table.  Cloud computing provides an “on-the-fly” mechanism for increasing infrastructure without the investment in hardware, software, or personnel.  As with any new technology the challenge is in finding the balance between the promise and the reality.


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