It’s been said that the cloud represents the new enterprise paradigm. Dynamic, scalable, completely federated, the cloud allows organizations to cast off the shackles of silo-based infrastructure that have long prevented knowledge workers from performing at full capacity.
Funny, though, how much the new cloud is like the old data center.
Tech consultant Jeffrey Kaplan, of THINKstrategies, hit the nail on the head recently when he noted that despite the myriad advantages that cloud computing brings, it still requires a boatload of systems integration, staff retraining and process engineering. In fact, most organizations are planning multi-year cloud conversion programs even though the end results are still, um, nebulous. Increasingly, however, IT leaders are coming to the conclusion that cost savings in the cloud are not as important as improvements to operations, which in the end aren’t so much a function of technology as a change in the overall business culture.
Already, the initial blush is starting to come off the rose as organizations become more familiar with the cloud. Cloud storage, for example, caught on like wildfire over the past year, so much so that users are well aware of the downsides by now. A recent survey by FixYa, for example, showed that popular services like Dropbox and Google Drive were not only coming up short in security and reliability metrics, but in such critical areas as file sync, latency and even simple upload and download. These are public services, mind you, so they wouldn’t be expected to provide enterprise-class performance, but it serves to point out that simply being on the cloud does not necessarily make it better than traditional enterprise infrastructure.
Still, the popularity of consumer-grade cloud services is undeniable, as is the fact that users are increasingly employing them both for personal and professional support. With nearly three quarters of consumers saying they have no problem putting corporate data on the public cloud, enterprise executives need to become proactive in keeping track of vital information. Approaches can range from strict rules against storage data on unapproved infrastructure of any kind (good luck) to widespread management and visibility to enable bring-your-own-cloud (BYOC) policies. Either way, it is clear that the focus of IT operations is rapidly changing from caring for systems and infrastructure to the data itself.
It is also worth noting that not every technology development has a cloud component. Even the much vaunted file-sharing movement has taken a distinctly old-school, non-cloud twist of late. Novell, for example, recently introduced its Filr service that enables mobile file sharing on traditional enterprise infrastructure. Essentially, the service utilizes the enterprise to create an environment that allows users, even non-employees, to trade data as they would on a public cloud, all while keeping it safely tucked behind the firewall. Not only does it provide a vibrant playground for mobile users, but it does so without widespread duplication.
The takeaway here is that the cloud is not necessarily the end-all and be-all of data infrastructure. And in fact, there are still many development paths that cloud technology can take, leading to multiple versions of cloud-based architectures and infrastructures that are able to suit both generalized and highly specific data and application needs.
Just like any other IT technology, however, the cloud has passed through its over-hyped, over-enthusiastic introduction and its negative backlash phase. At this point, the IT industry would do well to take a step back to gain some perspective as to what the cloud excels at and where it is lacking, and then focus future development on where it can do the most good.