Where in the Cloud Are We?

Michael Vizard

One of the reasons that a lot people are confused about cloud computing is that there are so many ways to get there. And how you choose to get there says as much about the IT organization as it does cloud computing.

A good microcosm of IT to watch as it shifts toward cloud computing under orders from U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra is the Federal government. The two most prominent efforts are the Responsive and Automated Cloud Ecosystem (RACE) being built by the Defense Department and the Nebula platform being built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Both of these efforts are essentially private clouds under which IT teams are rebuilding government systems on top of a shared set of IT infrastructure that leverages virtualization and a host of other advanced systems management tools.

But that's only one approach to the cloud. And when you consider the other options, building your own cloud may prove to be the path least travelled for most companies. The second form of the cloud comes in two flavors. IT organizations can opt to create a private cloud on top of a service provider's infrastructure, or they can opt to share resources on a public cloud that are being accessed by multiple companies. Which of those two flavors they decided to go for ultimately depends on how sensitive the data is in the application.

Things start to get especially confusing, and political, when to you factor software-as-a-service (SaaS) into the cloud computing equation. For all intents and purposes, SaaS involves outsourcing the entire IT process from infrastructure to application. Resistance to this form of cloud computing can be intense because it usually involves eliminating IT functions and asking users to learn a new application, as opposed to just running the same old applications on a different set of servers that IT people can remotely manage.

At the moment, IT organizations are embracing the concept of moving servers over to somebody else's more efficient data center. But as Steve Maier, general manager for the Government Solutions Division at SpringCM, a provider of content management systems as a service, notes, the SaaS model usually provides the most benefit and highest return in terms of cloud computing.

Government IT departments don't have to justify why they are not using cloud computing services until 2012, and are expected to have fully embraced cloud computing by 2013. But as the definitions of cloud computing and SaaS continue to converge, we're going to have to start asking people exactly what type of cloud computing they are embracing. It's only then that people start to realize that not only are all clouds not created equal, but most of them are not even interconnected.

We live in an age where just about everybody offering an type of IT service can lay claim to the term cloud computing; the issue from here is going to be sorting out exactly what they mean by that.

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