Truth, Lies and the Cloud

Arthur Cole

In times of rapid technological change, it can be difficult to separate myth from reality. Fear of being left behind has a way of producing a herd mentality, propelling many enterprises to push into uncharted territory before a rational assessment of costs and benefits are made.

But at the risk of bursting a few bubbles out there, the cloud does in fact have a dark side. Not only are some of the claims being made not entirely true, but the cloud is also rife with rumor and speculation posing as fact, leading to some widespread misunderstanding as to what exactly enterprises are getting when they sign on the dotted line.

According to Wakefield research, only 16 percent of ordinary Americans — that is to say, users — can accurately describe the cloud as a network-driven infrastructure incorporating shared data architectures. More than half, in fact, believe cloud computing can be brought down by severe weather. It's interesting to note that this comes at a time when nearly every American has already tapped into the cloud without even knowing it.

But before you think that tech-savvy enterprise workers are immune to such silliness, the cloud myth factory is alive and well in the enterprise as well. According to Information Week's Doug Henschen, some of the biggest myths surround application deployment and configuration. Neither of these tasks is as easy as many cloud providers make them seem, although compared to actual customization they provide the best option for building a tailored data environment. On the positive side, however, customization of cloud-based apps is not impossible as once thought, but it is a time-consuming process and will not necessarily maintain functionality as new software versions are introduced.

Enterprises should also be wary of claims that the cloud will simplify data and infrastructure management, according to Shahin Pirooz, CTO of outsourcing firm CenterBeam Inc. In reality, multiple layers of Saas, PaaS, IaaS and all the other as-a-services out there require some fairly sophisticated integration in order to create a unified data environment. The problem is compounded by the fact that few cloud providers offer multiple tiers of service, so unifying them will involve a fair amount of coordination not just across vendors and platforms, but providers as well.

And then there is the cost. Much has been made of the cloud's price premium compared to traditional data center infrastructure, but there may actually be less here than meets the eye, according to Forrester's Dave Bartoletti. Compared to standard physical infrastructure, the cloud most certainly cuts costs, although that differential starts to break down as greater levels of virtualization are introduced. Once you've moved past simple server consolidation and into areas like automated configuration management and pooled resource allocation, your internal infrastructure may already provide at- or near-parity with the cloud.

The unknown is always rife with half-truths, mistruths and downright lies, and the cloud is no exception, at least as far as the details are concerned. But the big picture is still valid. The cloud will usher in a streamlined, more dynamic and overall less costly data infrastructure than we have today. There will be many instances in which the traditional data center will still provide the most effective support for crucial data environments, and it won't always be easy to tell which architecture to use, and how it should be configured.

But many of these questions should find answers as experience with the cloud grows. And it won't be long before facts start to separate from fiction.

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