Top 10 Cloud Computing Caveats

Like the Buddhist mantras of old, IT vendors appear to be unified in their messaging — the incessant chant of the moment is: “Move to the cloud now.” So should CIOs be listening? Here are ten cloud caveats to consider before embarking upon the journey.

1. Define your terms – Recent IBM prime time ads poke fun at cloud definitions. Several nerds define it in the most esoteric terms imaginable like some of the ridiculously complex explanations served up for IT terms on Wikipedia. That is followed in the ad by users stating much more simply what they want their cloud to do. The first step with regard to the cloud then is to do as Voltaire demanded and understand your terms.

“Currently, the biggest challenge in cloud computing seems to be one of definition,” said Rich Morrow, a cloud architect at Quicloud. “Upwards of 40% of decision makers in IT are confused about the term, the technologies, and the usefulness.”

2. Watch out for cloud washing – At the start of the millennium, EMC launched the concept of Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) to embrace the idea of caring for data management from cradle to grave across multiple media and tiers. Within weeks, a rush of vendors issued press releases about their latest ILM offerings. In many cases, these were the exact same products as before but with a rebranding to capitalize on the fad of the moment. The same thing is happening with the cloud. Everything, these days, is being labeled as virtualized and cloud. “Companies rushing to cloud wash their offerings are not helping the issue,” said Morrow.

3. Examine basic needs – Because of the hype surrounding cloud computing, Greg Schulz, an analyst with StorageIO Group, suggested that organizations first ask themselves if they really need a cloud and why they need it. Like the rush to “get on net” of the ’90s, a business case is often sorely lacking in the panic not to get left behind. Such a mindset can end up costing a lot of money for little result.

4. Should I choose cumulus or nimbus? – With the first few points above examined thoroughly, the door is opened to greater understanding that can form a basis for the next point of discussion: public, private or hybrid cloud. A private cloud is wholly internally hosted, maintained and run. A public cloud is overseen externally. A hybrid is a combo of the two. Security and compliance issues may limit the choices.

5. Nail down projected costs – A surefire way to bring a poorly conceived cloud proposal crashing back to reality is to zero in on its price tag. Schulz recommended that costs be worked out for delivery as a private cloud, public cloud and for a traditional IT set up. That way, a blanket security “no” to a public cloud can be given an actual price tag. When management realizes how much more it costs to host services internally compared to the public cloud, rigid negativity often evaporates.

“Gain an understanding of your costs to deliver a given IT service to a particular service level objective to know if you will in fact be paying more for public cloud versus private cloud or your traditional environment,” said Schulz.

6. Policy is as important as technology – Cloud adoption can all too easily be done as an IT initiative and the rest of the organization then has to play catch up. Gaping policy holes can result that can cause security, financial and other challenges. Well thought out policy is the answer.

“Information governance policies are typically absent in organizations when they first adopt a public or hybrid cloud environment,” said Whitney Tidmarsh, chief marketing officer for EMC’s Information Intelligence Group. “These types of policies govern how information is accessed, secured, and handled throughout the organization, regardless of where the information resides.”

According to one survey, only 34 percent of organizations have a governance policy for cloud-based information. Such policies are essential in an organization’s efforts to leverage information for business advantage.

“Assert your right to own the information, even if you don’t own the associated infrastructure, applications or services,” said Tidmarsh. “Your company is liable for that information regardless of where it resides, so you must have the means to manage it appropriately.”

7. Cloud piracy abounds – Like wireless in the enterprise ten years ago, beware of cloud computing pirates lurking right under your nose. Is it so easy to set up and enable a cloud that some line of business managers with financial clout will be unwilling to wait for a conservative corporate culture to come to terms with the cloud. And individuals are probably already engaging public clouds for a host of services (including data backup) without consent from anyone. Should that data be sitting with a provider of what often turns out to be a consumer-grade service?

“Smaller groups within organizations are more likely to adopt incompatible platforms and services given the ease and convenience of the public and hybrid cloud infrastructure,” said Tidmarsh. “This is inefficient from a cost standpoint and it increases the number of systems and services that internal IT needs to integrate and support.”

This in turn can lead to the erection of cloud-specific silos of information as these information repositories aren’t readily accessible to the organization’s other IT systems, business processes and groups. And as the overall market for cloud services is still fragmented, the potential for vendor lock-in is high.

8. Know before you go – Morrow emphasizes that CIOs must learn about the cloud before implementing anything. “If you don’t have a 30-second elevator definition of the cloud or can’t explain to a six year old how it would improve your business, then you need to bone up,” he said. “If your team has knowledge, have them brain dump to you.”

If no one knows, perhaps it is a good time to call in a knowledgeable cloud consultant to help with initial education and then resulting implementation.

9. Start small – Morrow advises CIOs to start small. A smart way forward, he said, is to peel off a couple of the best staff to set up a private cloud, or else deploy the next non-mission critical product in a public cloud to get the idea on how it works.

“An absolute no-brainer for a private cloud would be a test farm of OS/browser combos that your QA team can script Web products against,” he said.

10. Find the right tools – Another essential ingredient to cloud success is the right tools. Morrow believes that monitoring is key, with Monitis, BrowserMob and Nagios being some of the options available to constantly evaluate live assets. And there are other tools out there that will help in any cloud initiative.

“Getting familiar with configuration management tools like Chef, Puppet or Fabric will let your team build out a grand vision in the cloud,” said Morrow. “Use Symplified to manage multiple SaaS product access.”

Despite all these caveats, Morrow recommends that CIOs look for any and every opportunity to leverage the cloud and virtualization. “Any learning curve you need to conquer will be rewarded tenfold once you start using the cloud to do more with less.”

Schulz, too, is upbeat. “Don’t be scared, but look before you leap. View the near term tactical side as well as the long-term strategic benefits and you will gain a better grasp of the challenges that lie ahead.”