The cloud represents the future of IT, one in which all manner of resource configurations can be provisioned and decommissioned practically at a moment's notice to suit whatever data needs are knocking at the door.
But before we get there, the cloud will have to address more immediate concerns, if only to make itself useful as the long-term architectures work their way through the development process. After all, if the cloud can't do the simple things more efficiently and at lower cost today, how will we ever be able to entrust it to the more complex functions of tomorrow?
So here then is my list of the five ways the cloud can be put to use immediately:
- Storage This is an obvious one, as most early adopters are already tapping into its vast storage potential as a way to keep costs down on their own internal infrastructures. Most of the top storage vendors are offering cloud services, both as a way to supplement their platforms in established enterprises and to get in on the ground floor of a trend that could start to threaten hardware sales in the near future.
- Application Development This is the lifeblood of the leading cloud providers like Amazon and Google, with the most obvious advantages over internal architectures being costs and time. For a relatively low fee, users can provision their own application development environment in a matter of hours on most clouds, rather than wait weeks for approvals from internal IT hierarchies. And the leading virtualization providers like Microsoft and VMware are falling over themselves to add app development tools to their platforms that can easily be adapted for use in the cloud.
- Backup and Recovery This is partly an extension of cloud storage, but with the addition of business continuity and data reduction technologies aimed at restoring primary systems in the event of a central failure. Not only is it far cheaper than mirroring entire data centers on fully owned duplicate hardware, but the cloud better lends itself to things like multi-platform recovery and remote management.
- Data Integration This is mostly a benefit of internal cloud architectures. As IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson pointed out recently, many of the integration challenges that enterprises have been struggling with over the past decade are greatly alleviated once cloud access is established. A word of caution on looking for this level of integration on public clouds, however: Until there are some standards to govern the myriad services out there, moving data from cloud to cloud will be a major hassle.
- Database Management This one is probably the most untested on my list, but it is nevertheless quickly approaching mainstream status. Most of the top database firms like Microsoft and Oracle are already transitioning their platforms and tools for the cloud, intent on taking advantage of massive resource pools to handle the increasingly gargantuan data sets that enterprises are dealing with. And companies like Vertica Systems are adding bandwidth management and other tools to help minimize the crunch on both internal and external network architectures.
The broad expectation is that once enterprises get a little more cloud experience under their belts, more applications and functions like business intelligence and transaction processing will transition over.
As for that magical day when we'll have virtually unlimited resources at our disposal and the ability to shift data loads across the globe, well, that could still happen, but not quite yet.