Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Clouds and Clocks

I've looked at clouds from both sides now ...
The classic distinction is between clouds and clocks. Clocks follow precise rules, they are under "iron control". Clouds are more complex, and are under "plastic control".

In SOA terms, the term "cloud" is generally used to describe what happens outside the enterprise boundaries, and outside the corporate firewall. SOA is commonly expected to start in areas that are under greater control, and then spread to more complex, less well-controlled areas. Numerous pundits are now predicting this trend for the current year.

But the contrast between clouds and clocks may be a misleading one. In physics, one of the central questions of the twentieth century was whether atoms behaved like clocks (predictable mechanisms) or like clouds (statistical mechanisms). In 1965, Karl Popper gave a lecture called "On Clouds and Clocks", in which he contrasted the assumption of classical atomism (even clouds are composed of tiny clock-like bits) with the modern alternative (even clock-like structures are composed of tiny cloud-like bits).

We can ask a similar question for SOA. Is there really such a strong distinction between (tightly controlled) behaviours inside the enterprise and (loosely controlled or uncontrolled) behaviours outside the enterprise? Or is the cloud (cloudiness) fractal?

Much of my consultancy time is spent with organizations that are just too large and complex to be able to draw simple boundaries. Especially in the public sector and defence sector. As soon as you get past tightly controlled pilot projects, everything typically becomes more cloud-like.

Obituary of Karl Popper, 1902–1994, by John Watkins
Printed in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 94, pp. 645–684. 1997

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