The outlook is Cloudy, with outbreaks of pain…

Cloud computing is getting a mixed press these days – vendors are singing its praises, critics are pouncing on its failings.  Google had a two hour outage of Gmail earlier in the week caused by some routine maintenance going wrong, which they admitted was a “Big Deal”.  With Google increasingly looking to sell its Google Apps and Gmail to businesses, you can see why.  Since these services are in “the cloud”, i.e. hosted and delivered via the Internet, the benefits are that you don’t need to buy and administer hardware and software yourself – you just buy the service in the way you buy your utilities (so the sales patter goes).  However, the downside is that you’re wholly reliant on the supplier providing the service reliably.   The key advantage of the Cloud is scalability – if your demands suddenly increase by 1000%, the cloud should be able to cope with that, where your own servers may not.  As your requirements expand or contract, the Cloud means you only pay for what you use.

Cloud Computing does seem to be suffering from an excess of hype, backed up by the recently published Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies: Cloud Computing is sitting right at the top of the “Peak of Inflated Expectations”, with an estimated 2-5 years before mainstream adoption.  My view would be that  Cloud Computing has its place, but is not the panacea it’s being hyped as. 

Some things that you need to consider when looking at the cloud might be:

  • where is the data held? – if it’s outside the EU and not a Safe Harbour country that could be a DP problem
  • what is the SLA? – you might get a refund of some of the fee paid if the service is unavailable for 4 hours, but that may only be a few hundred pounds – will that compensate you for loss of service/business?
  • is the data centre the supplier’s own or a third party’s?
  • can you visit the data centre to confirm the supplier’s assertions as to security etc.?
  • how is the data held?  Is it encrypted at the disk level?  What access do the supplier’s staff have to it?

The key with Cloud Computing is, unsurprisingly, to know what you’re getting and be able to manage any risks.

Damien-Behan-signoff

5 Responses to “The outlook is Cloudy, with outbreaks of pain…”


  1. 1 douglasmathie September 11, 2009 at 11:04 am

    The guys at Nation1 have also been discussing Cloud computing at their blog. Here is a link (sorry that it is not a simpy click-through).

    http://wearenation1.blogspot.com
    http://wearenation1.blogspot.com/2009/08/will-cloud-ever-be-self-aware.html

  2. 2 Aydin Kurt-Elli September 10, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Indeed; as we own and manage DC’s you’d expect me to agree with most / all of what you say Damien! To be devil’s advocate however, there is an argument that sometimes business or operational models become popular and are trusted based on experience, rather than perceived risk.

    If the cloud industry delivers a reliable, safe, secure operating model it may well become the model “de rigeur”, in the same way that many have become comfortable using SSL VPNs over the scary internet, where in the past fixed lines were the only way!

    Don’t get me wrong however, certainly much more can go wrong with implementation of cloud infrastructure from a risk perspective than a simple SSL VPN – so the risk profile is completely different IMHO!

    • 3 damienbehan September 10, 2009 at 1:15 pm

      Excellent points Aydin. I definitely think the Cloud – or whatever you call it – is here to stay in some form, but whether it will be the only game in town in five years time I don’t know. Service quality and experience as you say, and from that trust, will be the primary determinant of whether people feel comfortable with relinquishing the control they have hosting and managing systems internally. As with anything it will be about managing risk – making sure that as a customer you’re doing everything you can to mitigate the risk and making sure you have some clear protection, as Douglas commented.

      It’s interesting that Cloud Computing has risen in public consciousness at the same time as data security concerns have been prominent – the media are pouncing on every lost USB flash drive and CD, so you can imagine they’d have a field day with a shower of data leaking from the Cloud!

  3. 4 douglasmathie September 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    Yes, Cloud Computing, and its half-sister “Software as a Service” sound like a great idea, but for the customer there are some concerns.

    Damien has highlighted the data protection and data security concerns.

    I also mention to clients the risk that where there is a dispute with the supplier, or where the supplier goes insolvent, then they can turn off your service like a tap. Worse they have your data, so they are in a very strong bargaining position (data ransom anyone).

    Also as regards service levels – where do you measure the uptime / response time? Not as easy a question as it first sounds. You can’t put the supplier on the hook if your LAN is slow. Similarly you can’t put the supplier on the hook if your connection to the Internet is down. So you measure at the supplier end, but realistically how can a customer do that? Hmmm!

    Generally my view is that it is OK to SaaS / Cloud non critical business functions such as payroll and CRM, but not your critical stuff. I suspect the FSA will take a similar view.

    Final thought – Is “Cloud Computing” not what we used to call a Bureau Service? Yes I really am that old!


  1. 1 The forecast: clouds, with grey linings, perhaps turning to silver later « TechBlog Trackback on May 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

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