“The Cloud”: Saving Grace or Empty Thunder?

In the groundswell of economic pressures, companies big and small are looking to the Cloud for relief. The buzz is everywhere: Cloud computing can cut costs, speed implementations, and scale quickly. The buzz, however, may be slightly off-the mark … at least in product pitches.

“Just like SOA hype was vendor fueled and thus became more a marketing term than an architecture description, the same will happen in 2009 with the ‘Cloud’,” said Ross Mason, co-founder and CTO of open source SOA provider MuleSource. “It’s all about buzz and not as much about pragmatism.”

That is not to say, however, that the Cloud is a total rain-out.

“Right now, the ‘Cloud’ is the most over-hyped Web-based buzzword when it comes to how business gets done,” said EchoSign’s CEO, Jason Lemkin. “Having said that, I would argue that the Cloud is still in fact under-hyped because Cloud computing is really shorthand for what third generation web services can do, and this is something that radically shifts online business dynamics.”

Drivers and Answers

The main driver behind Cloud computing is basic economics. It significantly lowers up-front capital expenses and allows companies to only pay for what they actually use. “Plus, the Cloud model dramatically lowers operating expenses over time by increasing standardization and automation and delivering applications and services more efficiently,” said Dennis Quan, IBM director of Autonomic Computing.

It is a bit mystifying that while everyone agrees on the benefits of Cloud computing, many have trouble defining what truly does, and does not, fit under the Cloud umbrella. Perhaps this explains why Peter Fingar’s book, Dot.Cloud, is a top seller on Amazon before it was even published. In fact, several books on Cloud computing are selling in record numbers as demand for definitive answers swells. Fingar admits that definitions of Cloud computing vary widely, but said he has pegged the concept to two parts:

  • For geeks, he said, Cloud computing means grid computing, utility computing, software as a service (SaaS), virtualization, Internet-based applications, autonomic computing, peer-to-peer computing, on-demand and remote processing—and various combinations of these terms. These are all areas Fingar calls “information factories.”

  • For non-geeks, Cloud computing is simply a platform where individuals and companies use the Internet to access endless hardware, software and data resources for most of their computing needs, “leaving the mess to their Cloud Service Providers (CSPs),” as Fingar puts it.

    In any case, it isn’t the geek or non-geek struggling with the Cloud issue: it’s the CIO. “The big thrill of The Cloud is not having to care who, where or how something is being done,” said Miko Matsumura, author of SOA Adoption for Dummies and deputy CTO of Software AG. “Unfortunately, that thrill does not extend to the CIO, whose job it is to ensure that it’s done properly.”

    Worries at the Top

    CIOs are not the only C-level executives worrying over the Cloud issue. “The key findings of our study showed that despite a mandate to reduce costs, most businesses are not adopting Cloud computing even though they recognize it as a viable option to reduce up-front and ongoing costs,” said Larry Beck, senior director of Cloud Strategy at Avanade. “Fear over security and loss of control of data and systems is hindering adoption.”

    There is another matter proving troublesome: regulatory issues.

    “If you want to use Cloud computing and post data covered by Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) on it, you need to carefully consider whether or not it is in compliance,” said Anthony Velte, co-author of the upcoming McGraw-Hill book Cloud Computing Handbook. “The fact that HIPAA data could comingle on a server with another organization’s data will likely get the attention of an observant HIPAA auditor.