Cloud Computing, Hype or Hope?

Over the years there have been numerous paradigm shifts in the ICT world. Each shift has seen resistance from the proponents of existing infrastructure, who eventually needed to evolve or die out.  While not always on the cutting edge of a movement or hanging their hat on the right technology (OS/2 cough cough), IBM is an excellent example of a company which has evolved with the times. Others were not so savvy (or lucky), DEC for example appeared to be stuck in the minicomputer era and failed to successfully transition into the low end server, microcomputer market.

The last major shift was to Virtualization. Although Virtualization has been around since the 70’s, over the last 5 years in particular there has been a proliferation of virtualized server environments. A personal indication of this is all major ICT projects I’ve been involved with in the past 2 years have either been centered on or involved virtualization of the server. The clear winner of the push into virtualization has been VMware, and I believe this is duly justified as VMware’s products are class leading. VMware isn’t alone in the virtualization market, Microsoft’s contender Hyper-V has a healthy market share, and the open source alternative Xen has a loyal following. It’ll be interesting to see how VMware is able to evolve over the coming decade.

We are potentially in the middle of the next big paradigm shift, which has evolved thanks to the gains of virtualization. Of course I’m talking about the Cloud. Once upon a time the cloud was used to identify an interconnection between networks. It was a fuzzy blob on diagrams, into which things which were too hard or complex to explain lived. We didn’t need to know how the cloud worked, it was enough just to know that it did.

Now we are told the Cloud is where it’s at. The Cloud is presented as the panacea for your IT woes. Relocate your services running on expensive in-house servers and the benefits are instant. It’s instantly cheaper to run as we no longer need that EMC SAN, switched Fabric network, Virtual Server Farm, not to mention the replicated DR environment. The service is scalable. Need more processing power? easy just pay for it, and dynamically increase the performance of your applications.

There’s no doubting the benefits are numerous and tempting, but what about the issues? The first that springs to mind is security of data. Just how secure is our data in the cloud? Companies have been co-locating servers for years with data centre providers, but you always have had control of the physical infrastructure. In the cloud this control is lost. Now it’s in the best interests of the Cloud providers to keep your data safe and secure, because they will quickly be out of business if they don’t. For example Google are obviously aware of this concern and have a security page to placate potential customers. Trust may be the biggest hurdle for the provider to overcome.

About a year ago The Economist had an online debate “This house believes that the cloud can’t be entirely trusted“. The outcome was close. With 53% trusting the cloud and 47% not. As the moderator concluded “This result, however, does not reflect what both debaters—and most commentators—think about the cloud: nearly all expect that computing will migrate online. What they differ on, is how fast this shift will occur. Perhaps predictably, given the shape of their respective businesses, Mr Benioff sees a faster and more radical shift, while Mr Elop expects a slower-moving and more mixed world.” Interestingly the proponent for the debate was Stephen Elop who at the time was President, Microsoft Business Division. Since then it appears Microsoft has taken a far more aggressive approach as indicated in a speech by Steve Ballmer CEO Microsoft in March 2010 “About 75 percent of our folks are doing entirely cloud based or entirely cloud inspired…A year from now that will be 90 percent.”

This I believe is the crux of the matter. Despite all of the hype surrounding Cloud Computing, businesses still need to make business decisions in the end. There will always be a market and need for the on-site server and data storage. Conversely the Cloud will also have it’s place in the market, and as business becomes more familiar and comfortable with the service it’s usage will grow. Ultimately it’s up to us as IT professionals to cut through the hype haze and guide business into the Cloud.

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1 thought on “Cloud Computing, Hype or Hope?

  1. Well stated!

    The parallels with the the current state of virtualisation are inescapable. Ten years ago it was new and cutting-edge, five years ago we were all going to virtualise everything and somehow change the world in the process. But these days it’s just a standard part of the IT environment to be used where appropriate – and figuring out whether it’s appropriate in a given instance is the part that requires IT professionals.

    With cloud computing we’re just now entering the state that we were in with virtualisation five years ago. It’s been around for several years, and we have a healthy ecosystem with multiple vendors and technologies in competition. But most people don’t have a great deal of experience with it, and there’s still a lot of confusion over terminology – for example in distinguishing between cloud services (e.g. Google Apps, Dropbox and other SaaS-type approaches) and cloud infrastructure (e.g. Amazon’s EC2 and S3, Rackspace’s cloud offerings, and things like Google’s App Engine).

    Five years from now I think we’ll be in the same position as we are with virtualisation today. Cloud services and/or hosting will be the right answer to many problems, but dedicated hardware (whether in-house or in a datacenter) is always going to have a place in the mix.

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