It was Donner who first thought of the idea, but it could have been almost anyone in a leadership position in Santa's reindeer team. They had just agreed that their annual task of manufacturing and delivering toys to all the children on earth in just one day was becoming more difficult and challenging with each passing year.
Significantly, 365 days were no longer adequate for preparation, manufacture and distribution when relying the outdated, inefficient computer systems at the secret data centre at the North Pole headquarters - which seemed constantly in need of memory and server upgrades.
"Heaven knows, we're not getting any younger," Donner stressed at this early-season strategy and planning session. "Neither are the elves or Santa himself. We need to employ new technology to help us before we are overwhelmed."
"The most obvious technology," suggested Rudolf, quickly stealing Donner's thunder, "is cloud computing. It's a new approach to IT in which technology is made available to businesses as a service. You pay for what you need - like water or electricity. This means we won't need to upgrade our mainframe or add more expensive servers to cope. All processing and even data storage will be off-site."
"Yes," said Dasher, anxious to agree with the boss. "The best thing is we're all familiar with clouds, especially over Europe at Christmas time, not to mention Russia and northern China..." His voice trailed off as he realised Rudolf was studiously ignoring him.
"So, that's settled than," beamed Vixen. "Shall I tell Santa we need to introduce cloud computing technology asap?"
"No wait," interjected Comet, leaping from his chair. "Let's give Santa some facts about cloud computing first and explain how it will help him - and us - to be more productive and efficient. That'll help persuade him to ask Mrs Claus to open her purse strings.... you know she won't spend any money on IT unless there's a substantial return on investment."
"Better still, let's show him how it will make Christmas happier for all the children," said Dancer. "I read something about how cloud computing helps companies capture information and then leverage this knowledge to improve customer service. Think about all the millions of gift request we get each year via snail mail. Wouldn't it be great if we could interface our system with all the social networking sites around the world, for example? This would help us get the requests in electronically.
"It would also cut down on the need to spy on children to produce the 'naughty or nice list'," commented Donner smugly.
"It would be even better if we could integrate this list with the 'universal gift list'," suggested Blitzen. “This would certainly streamline production and speed up time to market and allow us to exploit new business opportunities. The head Elf would be pleased."
"Why don't we give Santa a few examples of how the technology is working for the rest of the world? This will give him confidence to make the necessary changes," stressed Cupid, who had been silent up to that point. "We need to bring Santa's operation and big business together and show him what they have in common.”
"Good plan," smiled Rudolf, silently pleased that 'his' idea had gathered momentum. "Let's tell him about the online shopping clouds - like the one Amazon.com runs. I'll dig up information on the growing number of e-book stores and online music stores making a success of cloud computing..." Donner was quick to point out he knew about cloud computing applications from Google, BlackBerry and Apple all geared to boosting the efficiency of companies and individuals alike.
Warming to the subject, he added: "If we're looking for cloud computing examples to impress Santa, let's tell him how Christmas cards can be designed, personalised, printed and sent to their destinations online. And presents purchased online can be dispatched to their recipients at the stroke of a touch screen.
"Even the traditional Christmas lunch, turkey stuffing and all, can be bought online and then delivered, just in time, on Christmas day... amazing!"
Joining the conversation, Prancer said he'd been reading about parents who videotaped their children as they opened their Christmas presents and then put the happy results on YouTube for the grandparents to watch. "And those kids in America - aren't they lucky - can make free phone calls to one another on Google Voice or Apple's FaceTime, not only on Christmas day but all year round. These are some of the benefits of cloud computing."
"What a pity I'm not on Facebook," moaned Dasher with a disparaging wave of his hoof. "Because then I could wish all my friends 'merry Christmas' without getting all worked up and frustrated over the usual overloaded cellular networks and the SMS services that always stop working at Christmas."
With a far-away look in his eye, Donner wished he was able to stream his favourite Christmas-eve movie from the Internet and then watch it when the delivery round was completed. With cloud computing he would not be tied to the TV schedule, "which means I miss my favourite programming every year," he whispered.
"Yes, in today's world, with cloud computing, nearly anything is possible," added Cupid. "You just need to imagine it."
They were all lost in private thoughts when suddenly, out of the blue,
Blitzen said, in a concerned voice: "What about security?"
"What about it?" asked Rudolf.
"Well, I've heard cloud computing services often bypass the physical, logical and personnel security controls of traditional in-house systems like ours. We don't want our 'naughty or nice' list to end up on WikiLeaks, do we...?”
Rudolf nodded sagely. "Securing corporate information is very important these days. But do you know that despite the uncertainties, overall security provided by cloud computing hosts and their associates is often as good as, if not better, than the security barriers common to most traditional computer systems - like ours."
"How's this possible?"
Rudolf explained how security is actually enhanced when data is distributed over a wider base, multiple sites and a large number of devices. What's more, he stressed, cloud computing hosts and service providers generally devote more resources and money to identify security challenges and resolve issues than most customers for whom security is not a core business activity.
"Okay. Let's go and see Santa," interjected Vixen moving towards the door, anxious to get the ball rolling.
"Before we rush into things, there's one last question we need to resolve," mused Donner. "You know Santa will ask our advice when it comes to selecting a cloud computing vendor."
"Just go with the best.....easy decision," said Vixen, shouting now to make himself heard as he was already heading for the elevator to the executive level. "There is a vendor capable of building world-class cloud computing solutions that save time, money and resources - at the same time providing security designed to cope with our world of fast-paced change," said the knowledgeable Rudolf.
"That's all very well, but up here at the North Pole, we'll need a vendor who'll understand our issues and provide practical solutions to our unique challenges in a cost-effective way," noted Donner.
"Who?" asked Vixen again, even louder this time, as his finger repetitively stabbed the button with the 'up' arrow in red.
"All you have to do is go online to find the answer," explained Rudolf.
"You don't have to take my word for it. For example, at http://blogs.enterasys.com you'll find a slew of industry specialists ready to provide you with accurate perspectives on the changing landscape of the IT industry, not to mention cloud solutions and virtualised data centres. "Come on....let's go and log on to the Internet on our way to see Santa, and I'll show you all what I mean," ordered Rudolf officiously. "We're not getting any younger."