Expectations vs. Reality: What the Cloud Is Really About

Arthur Cole
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The hype cycle is such a common facet of IT technology that it’s become almost a sport to predict where on the satisfaction chart a particular development finds itself at any given moment.

The cloud has been riding the hype for nearly a decade now, and during that time numerous pundits have proclaimed various levels of enthusiasm and disillusionment within the enterprise community. Lately, however, the talk has shifted from the cloud itself to certain categories within the cloud, each of which seem to be following their own hype cycles.

NTT Communications’ recent Cloud Reality Check holds that IT executives are expressing deeper frustration with the public cloud, saying their deployments so far are failing to live up to the promises made when SLAs were signed. According to Len Padilla, VP of product strategy at NTT, a big part of the problem is the idea that the cloud provides a better way to support legacy applications and data rather than cloud-native functions. Once data executives realize that issues like compliance, security and availability are best handled through local infrastructure, disappointment sets in.

But it is also true that many cloud-ready applications to date are proving inadequate for modern production workloads, according to recent findings by Netskope. In a survey of European data leaders, the firm found that more than 60 percent of cloud apps currently deployed are not deemed enterprise-ready by the organizations that use them, and 70 percent are receiving uploads from compromised users. Apps usually rated as poor performers fall into the cloud storage, webmail and CRM/SFA categories, while superior offerings tend to gravitate toward marketing solutions, content management and productivity.

The cloud being what it is, however, it is safe to say that most of the disillusionment so far is the result of overly high expectations rather than flaws in the technology. And the fact is that many organizations are trying to do too much too soon in the cloud. A better strategy would be to keep it simple, says tech writer Paul Gillin, and let experience and actual results guide you from there. A good way to start is to launch projects with a “cloud-first” attitude to see if superior functionality can be had in the cloud versus a packaged solution, and then focus on opex to gauge the cost differences between in-house and off-premises performance. When it comes to migration, look for servers running at less than 10 percent utilization and see if it makes more sense to offload those functions to the cloud than virtualize them yourself.

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And painful as it may be to admit, part of the problem with private and hybrid clouds may be your legacy infrastructure, says Diginomica’s Phil Wainewright. No one likes the dreaded words “rip and replace,” but the fact is that if you want a modern cloud infrastructure at home you’ll need to start with hardware. Most legacy infrastructure was not designed for the dynamic exchange of data that the cloud demands, nor is it conducive to rapid scalability and pooled resource allocation. For an industry that prides itself as being so forward-thinking and eager to deploy the newest technologies, it’s rather odd that reliance on legacy systems is considered to be a virtue.

Despite these wrinkles, the enterprise has come too far in the cloud to turn back now. And while initial visions of digital nirvana were indeed overblown, most IT executives still see tremendous value in the cloud and are eager to lift systems and resources off of static hardware constructs as quickly as possible.

Experience is the best antidote to fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD), and as more workloads make their way onto abstract, distributed architectures, the more we learn what works in the cloud and what doesn’t.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.

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