A Clear-eyed View of the Cloud

Arthur Cole

Now that new cloud platforms and services are coming at a steady clip, it's helpful to give ourselves a reality check: The cloud is most definitely not the answer to all your IT problems.

In fact, and in keeping with untold technological developments in the past, the cloud will produce an entirely new set of challenges that we haven't even thought of.

Fortunately, cooler heads are already starting to prevail, as more and more observers take a hard look at what the cloud can and cannot do. One of the more surprising is a sponsored editorial from Xerox, which lays out three areas where the cloud probably won't do much good. Sensitive data, for example, would be better served on in-house infrastructure, as is anything you want to shield from discovery in legal proceedings. As well, highly customized environments that depend upon specialized application environments should be left alone-at least until the burden of maintaining them starts to outweigh their usefulness.

And as data loads on the cloud increase, many enterprises may find that cloud infrastructure is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. As Meghainfotech's Tarun Juneja points out, poorly designed cloud architectures can cause multiple problems in your own data center if, say, virtual infrastructure is compromised. As well, network connectivity becomes a key point of failure. And has anyone given any thought to ensuring that peripherals like printers and scanners will work on the cloud?

The disconnect between promise and reality is most pronounced in the way IT and business users view the cloud, according to a new study by Accenture and the London School of Economics. Through surveys and interviews, they found that users are growing frustrated because they see all the wonderful things the cloud can do, while IT focuses on technical issues like lock-in and security. The result is that business units often do an end-run around IT whenever it needs to scale up resources, with potentially dangerous results for the enterprise.

Many of the issues surrounding public clouds at least can be traced to a lack of interoperability between services. The cloud, after all, is simply another form of abstraction that has allowed enterprises to manipulate simple binary code since the dawn of the computer age, says ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg. Fixing these problems is not a technical matter, then, but an organizational one that can be addressed by means of cloud brokering. Management firms like RightScale and Kaavo are keying in on this need with new template-based deployment models, while CloudSwitch uses a similar approach on the Layer 2 OSI stack. Either way, the idea is to break the dependency on a single cloud provider and any inherent architectural or infrastructure deficiencies they may have.

Sometimes in the backlash of a promising new technology, the tendency is to go overboard and conclude that the entire idea is a bust. That doesn't seem to be happening with the cloud (not yet, anyway), but it is both reasonable and appropriate to adopt a dispassionate view of the pros and cons.

The cloud offers a dramatic improvement in enterprise performance and flexibility, but it cannot cure everything that ails the enterprise.

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