The cloud may be cheaper and more flexible than traditional data center infrastructure, but does that mean it is better?
Lower operational costs and the ability to shift loads from one set of resources to another are certainly desirable traits, but unless the cloud can provide a superior operating environment across the enterprise application, it will fail to emerge as the new data paradigm that its backers predict. Instead, it will simply serve as an adjunct to the tried-and-true resources that have supported mission-critical operations faithfully for so long.
Success is rarely total in technology development, so it is unlikely the cloud will relegate the enterprise data center to complete obsolescence. But on many fronts, it seems that the cloud will indeed provide a better working environment for most day-to-day applications, particularly as the knowledge workforce gravitates to more mobile, collaborative environments.
According to KPMG, a growing number of organizations have already shifted their thinking on the cloud from cost containment and TCO opportunities to actual value propositions. That is, the cloud is no longer a means to cut expenses but a valuable tool to drive new business opportunities and open up new revenue streams. By fostering on-demand scalability and other functions, the cloud makes it easier to open new sales channels, add new business applications, and push product and service innovation to new levels – essentially putting winning ideas into the hands of users more quickly while dumping the losers before they consume significant business resources.
For example, a key resource in any enterprise is storage. Big Data, discovery mandates, disaster recovery and a host of other requirements are driving storage volumes through the roof. But as InfoVision noted recently, cloud storage has done what not even virtualization could do in the data center: provide a virtually unlimited, highly scalable storage infrastructure that can be instantly synced between desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile phone – and at a cost that is both manageable and predictable.
In any cloud discussion, however, the question of security is inevitable. But as real-world experience is starting to show, the cloud is no less secure than traditional data environments and in some cases may be an improvement. Microsoft recently issued a study that suggested that 94 percent of small and mid-sized firms gain significant security advantages in the cloud. Chief among the reasons is the fact that it is much easier to deploy security updates and patches in the cloud than on dispersed, silo-based architecture. And many firms report that, despite initial misgivings, the cloud actually enables increased levels of privacy protection and service availability. Microsoft recently released an updated version of the Cloud Security Readiness Tool (CRST) that includes that European Network and Information Security Agency’s Information Assurance Framework (ENSIA IAF) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) system.
The cloud can also be tailored to meet the needs of specific industries, such as health care. According to athenahealth COO Ed Park, innovative solutions are deployed on hospital IT infrastructure all the time, but because these systems are isolated, the benefits are limited. In the cloud, new tools can be deployed across multiple tenants simultaneously, providing substantial advantages across entire provider communities. This also helps to draw third-party development to highly regulated industries like health care, where true innovation comes at such a high risk that many firms avoid it for more lucrative markets.
Despite these advantages, it will still take some time before the cloud emerges as the primary option for enterprise infrastructure. Large organizations, in particular, have devoted quite a bit of capital and manpower to the care and feeding of their data centers and aren’t likely to give them up without a fight.
But as internal systems become more cloud-like, it may very well be that by the end of the decade it won’t matter much where data resides. All infrastructure will be on the cloud. The only difference will be whether you prefer to use your cloud or someone else’s.