Monday, 2 November 2009

Cloud Computing - The Business Dilemma

While attending an IT event last week a discussion was started about Cloud computing and why the take up from business seems to be slower than those involved in technology would like.

Cloud has a lot in its favour, it is immeasurably scalable, it is phenomenally cost effective and it is 'green' for the bearded environmentalists. So with everyone in the land of digital talking about cloud why is it such a hard sell?
The answer is that no-one who actually spends money (as in accountants and FD's) knows what it really is. You have to look at cloud from a historical perspective and there isn't very much history to look at.
It was in the early months of 2000 just as the world realised that no computers were going to crash with the millennium bug that Microsoft started to introduce the concept of Software as a Service through the development of what was then called Web Services.

Amazon who were an early adopter of web services decided to modernise their data centres and by 2005 they were providing access through a product gateway called Amazon Web Services. The web services offering was not developed further until 2007 when Google, IBM and a number of Universities embarked on a large scale project which envisioned and created the first cloud computing service.
That year was 2007, that's only two years ago, and that is an important point and the first reason why there are not a lot of companies examining the possibility of a cloud roll out just yet.

The second reason is that once again technical innovators have approached the problem from a techie point of view. Cloud is a lovely thing for those who like to admire the sheen on their new 42u rack or that talk to their friends about the new switch in the cabinet. But for a businessman who has business issues to deal with a shiny cabinet and decent throughput is not his primary concern.
A CEO of a large corporate is more likely to worry about legal issues regarding data than how cheaply you can keep it or how much more of it you can store for half the price. Yes, financial issues are considered, but go to any purchase manager and you will find that the cheapest option or the newest option is not often the one that is purchased.
Cloud computing gives CEO's more headaches than a gaggle of trade union officers (if that isn't the collective perhaps it should be).
Cloud deals with none of the legal issues regarding data storage and can't answer any of the business continuity or technology security questions that are being asked. For example, regulatory compliance in the UK states that an organisation is responsible for the security of its data even when it is being held by a third party provider. It also states that data can't be moved from the country, which doesn't help if your cloud supplier stores it in the USA. That then gives us the problem of the Patriot act that means the USA can view your data, and copy it, and not even tell you they have done that. Data in a cloud is in a shared environment, that means that data segregation is an issue. Encryption is effective but doesn't supply a total solution, and encryption accidents have been known to make data completely unusable.

Another Cloud turn off is the marketing hype, and if there is anything most likely to scare of a potential client it is seeing the marketeers trying hard to sell something. Everyone in business knows that when there is something good they will hear about it through channels they can trust, that's why they all drive BMW's or Mercedes and carry Macbooks. A buying decision takes more than hype and a good marketing slogan. I know many board members who hate with a passion the phrase 110% so to see cloud advertised as "110% up time" just makes them think that someone doesn't get the concept of percentages. It takes time and it takes answers to questions. Cloud doesn't have either of these on it's side yet.

Finally there is the real security issue. Hackers have not yet learned how to reliably and invisibly place a virtual machine into a cloud. They can place it, they just can't hide it yet. When that happens everything on the cloud will be accessible. 
New scanning tools are being written now to search out information in the cloud. Information at rest and in transit. A virtual machine within the cloud will be free to monitor data as it passes through hubs, switches, mail servers in fact anywhere and the amount of damage that could be done before a fix is made could be catastrophic to multiple organisations on levels that we have never previously seen.

The history of technology shows that there have been casualties when there have been early adopters. Yes, there have been great successes but if you talk about getting in first people still remember Boo, Flooz and, they also remember the more recent problems that beset early adopters of the iPhone. 
Under those circumstances to approach an organisation about taking a paradigm shift in it's technology delivery based on something that was created two years ago and that can't just yet make any promises that you wont go to jail may be expecting just a little to much.

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