When Is the Cloud Not the Cloud?

    It’s nearly impossible to avoid the cloud anymore. Even if the enterprise itself has not formally adopted a cloud architecture, workers are routinely tapping into the cloud from their mobile phones — sometimes putting sensitive information on someone else’s infrastructure without IT’s knowledge.

    Fortunately, however, few enterprises have made a conscious decision to stay off the cloud. In fact, the bigger problem that most organizations are encountering is telling the difference between real cloud services and fake ones.

    Computerworld’s UK edition recently canvassed some 200 CIOs and other top IT executives and found that more than 80 percent have encountered so-called “cloud washing” in their searches for data and resource services. The ruse comes in many forms: from fixed-term cloud contracts to services that are neither elastic nor scalable to offerings that don’t even feature self-service. In fact, many CIOs are of the opinion that the vast majority of the third-party data center and co-location industry simply renames existing offerings with a cloud moniker in the hopes that clients won’t know the difference.

    Part of the problem is that providers are largely able to define for themselves what is and is not the cloud, according to IBM’s Edwin Schouten. Marketing professionals are masters at blurring the lines when it comes to well-known terms and concepts, which allows providers to get away with seeming to offer advanced cloud services when in fact they are merely re-branding their existing portfolios. Vendors aren’t above this temptation as well. Note Oracle’s Larry Ellison describing the cloud as “complete gibberish” shortly before the company began labeling key platform elements in terms of their cloud-readiness.

    The sad part in all this is that there is no real reason for doing this. True, the cloud represents the latest shift in infrastructure technology, but it isn’t appropriate for all cases, and as entrepreneur David Cummings notes, there are many instances in which managed hosting or simple co-location is both cheaper and more effective. The cloud, for example, is best in situations where scale is indeterminate at the outset or is expected to fluctuate greatly, while co-location is most suited to stable environments that may require specialized systems and processing. Neither approach is superior, just a different level of infrastructure to suit different needs.

    Unfortunately, modern data environments rarely confine themselves to easy classification. How is the enterprise supposed to know ahead of time what kind of infrastructure will best meet its needs? This is where due diligence comes in, according to Data Center Colocation’s John Giaquinta. Only by asking the right questions, both to the cloud provider and in-house IT staff, will you know exactly what your needs are and whether the solution at hand is adequate. Evaluation of any outside solution, cloud or otherwise, should focus on key elements like data protection, encryption, compliance mandates, recovery and a range of other issues. You are, after all, expanding your infrastructure, so many of the same concerns surrounding the deployment of physical resources apply to outsourced solutions as well.

    Complex architectures breed complex business arrangements, and the increasing popularity of third-party data services will undoubtedly lead to many disagreements as to what is and is not covered under contract. The only true protection against this is experience, and the knowledge that if one solution is not meeting your needs, it is relatively easy to find another.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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