Head in the Clouds?

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For enterprises already looking at the operational benefits and cost savings of virtualization and consolidation, the idea of cloud computing must be doubly intriguing. But even though 2008 looks to be the year the concept finally comes into focus, it's probably still too early to tell whether it marks the revolutionary shift that its backers claim.


The loose definition of cloud computing is an infrastructure that delivers enterprise resources over a wide area network, allowing you to either deliver your centralized data center services to remote areas or tap into hosted data centers from third parties. Much like the SaaS model delivers applications from afar, the cloud can be used for things like raw storage and computing, data management, virus protection, even full platforms. This InfoWorld blog from Bill Snyder draws a pretty clear picture of what cloud computing is and is not.


Ready or not, though, cloud computing looks set to be a fact of life in the very near future. The list of major hardware and software vendors that are embracing the concept is growing longer by the minute.


Microsoft has a number of initiatives in the works, such as the Live Mesh synchronized storage system backed by industry legend Ray Ozzie. He's been busy lately evangelizing about the possibility of centralized configuration, unified data management, transparent data synchronization and a host of other benefits derived from the Web-based deployment of device-based platforms. Redmond is also talking up the SQL Server Data Services (SSSD) program, described here as "a giant data storage engine that can be used like electricity or water."


HP is also embracing the cloud in its new suite of systems and services designed to produce the next-generation data center. A key component is the Adaptive Infrastructure as a Service (AIaaS) system, through which the company plans to lease out its own data center resources, optimized for SAP, Exchange, Windows, UNIX or Linux. Just sign the contract, and you can shift all of your infrastructure costs from your capital budget to operations.


The one component of the cloud computing model that's been getting relatively little attention, however, is bandwidth. Supporters argue that the coming age of 40G and 100G connectivity will be more than enough to support cloud services, but 1) those standards have yet to be ratified, let alone deployed, and 2) successful adoption of cloud technology could overwhelm these standards sooner rather than later. And as this blog points out, there is the issue of transferring large data sets to networks outside the cloud.


Cloud computing certainly has the potential to be a force, perhaps even a revolutionary one, in enterprise computing. But like all revolutions, reality is bound to set in after the first blush of excitement falls away.