To Cloud or Not to Cloud?


Despite the rush of headlines it has generated, the ongoing question about cloud computing remains: Is it ready for the enterprise?

As with any yes-or-no question, there are two schools of thought.

On the yes side, there are commentators like InformationWeek's John Foley, who argue that some of the latest developments do indeed point to a cloud infrastructure capable of handling full-blown enterprise applications, rather than the kinds of non-critical services like Web applications and batch filing. He points to new agreements like the one between IBM and SAP, which will allow users to migrate SAP workloads across IBM server platforms. This could usher in a world in which the cloud could be used for load balancing and other advanced functions, provided there is adequate interoperability between cloud platforms.

Already, a number of firms are entrusting their very livelihood to the cloud. This profile of accounting services firm CODA shows how the company is using a cloud-based version of its applications created on Force.com. Not only does it avoid the cost of building out new data center facilities, but CEO Jeremy Roche says it gives him leverage to target companies that might not be able to afford a licensed product. He looks at it as moving forward into a new economy while still keeping a foothold in the old.

On the nay side are people like Daniel Wakeman, CIO of SAT firm Education Testing Services. While he has benchmarked EC2 and other services against his own data center, he's still not ready to entrust critical applications until issues like security and reliability are addressed more fully. Wakeman and others who were speaking at a recent Computerworld leaders conference say they have high hopes for the cloud, but will use it only for non-critical applications until it becomes a more proven technology.

Cloud computing represents such a fundamental shift in IT technology that it's easy to see why some people want to take it slow. The unknown is always risky, and one of the fundamental responsibilities of any executive is to minimize risk. But it's also true that organizations are desperate to cut costs and simplify operations. As more non-critical work is placed on the cloud, the comfort level is bound to rise -- but only if cloud providers take their role seriously.