Cloud Computing Still Looks ... Cloudy

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Five Must-Have Tools from Any Cloud Provider

The funny thing about the cloud is that everyone seems to know what it is, but there are still wide discrepancies when it comes to how to use it.

While some argue that the cloud is at its best when used as a cost-containment vessel, streamlining data infrastructure and increasing resource utilization, others say the entire effort is wasted unless you can turn IT into a profit center. Still others argue that both goals are valid while some say the true value of the cloud is yet to be revealed and can only be gauged according to other major data trends like mobility and social networking.

About the only thing people can agree on is that the cloud is the most transformative information technology to come along in decades - on the same level as the rise of the personal computer or the Internet itself. And that means there is a lot at stake for enterprises struggling to lay down the foundations needed to support cloud operations going forward.

According to David Linthicum, CTO of Blue Mountain Labs, forget about finding a magic cloud formula that makes all your dreams come true. But it is possible to identify the key factors in successful cloud development that will encourage the cloud's transformative aspects while diminishing its disruptive ones. These include user attitudes, technologies and processes, all of which have a lot to gain and lose depending on the way cloud systems are architected and implemented.

On a more practical level, there are some basic do's and don'ts when it comes to the cloud, says CA Technologies' Anna Gong. Things like building security and compliance directly into cloud lifecycles and ensuring the cloud serves institutional goals rather than the narrow interests of individual business units are crucial for successful development. On one hand, the cloud is not traditional IT and should not be managed the same way, and yet some of the basic rules of IT infrastructure still apply: define the architecture, establish management and security and keep your eye on the end-user experience.

It would be the rare business manager to look upon the cloud and not see dollar signs, however. But before you head down that road, says Transworld Data President Mary E. Shacklett, best to take stock not only of what you have, but what you hope to deliver. Can you provide adequate service levels and reliability? Are you ready for the security and regulatory requirements? And have you taken a look at the pricing models and revenue streams of potential rivals? After all is said and done, does it make sense to transform your organization from IT consumer to cloud provider?

There is also growing concern that demand for cloud services may not be as strong as it appears to be. While surveys indicate healthy growth in the coming year, questions are starting to surface as to whether the cloud provides the kind of cut-rate IT that has been advertised. As InformationWeek's Art Wittmann pointed out recently, enterprises have been coasting on Moore's Law for some time now, allowing them to project IT costs fairly accurately. But those rules don't always apply in the cloud, as providers set and adjust pricing according to their needs. This makes it difficult to project costs over time and to compare provider services one-to-one.

With something as complex as the cloud, it would be foolish to think that finding the optimal mix of services, infrastructure and resources would be easy. The fact is that the enterprise industry is facing at least a decade or more of trial and error before a fully functional cloud infrastructure takes root. By then, of course, technology will have presented a raft of new possibilities, which will likely present even greater opportunities along with even thornier issues surrounding deployment, management and governance.

There's no telling what will happen going forward, but it's equally true that there is no turning back.

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