As more companies begin to push the cloud and other software-as-a-service platforms to their customers, it becomes difficult to stay away from the hype about what the cloud could mean and see what the offer truly is.
While touted as the next revolution in computing, there are four key concepts present in both the marketing and IT pitches that companies need to be aware of. Hype often leads to false expectations, so be cautious when thinking the cloud may be for you.
The first big thing to address is the promise that a cloud platform will remove IT headaches. This is a very common misconception for companies and users getting their first taste of the cloud. Moving services and applications to cloud environments eases infrastructure requirements, but doesn’t automatically duplicate all of the jobs that infrastructure did. The biggie here is backing up data.
Just because it’s the cloud doesn’t mean that everything is being copied multiple times and stored in different locations, unless you set that up specifically. For instance, Rackspace has had such trouble with its customers expecting this that it now issues warnings explaining that cloud servers don’t come with automated backups, and that customers must setup backups and contingency servers themselves.
Even cloud backup services aren’t completely hands off. For example, the Carbonite backup program doesn’t save application files to its cloud servers - these must be made with physical backups on site.
No technology is foolproof, so the cloud won’t solve all of your IT issues and it won’t ensure a 100 percent uptime (a measure of system reliability) on all of your processes. The cloud makes it easier to address issues, downtime, and loss, but it won’t prevent them all the time, so companies should prepare.
The second worry comes with security, because the cloud isn’t inherently secure. By itself, a cloud setup is no more or less secure than any other kind, so this is an area you must clarify with your service provider. The cloud offers a lot more control, restriction, and privacy around data, but just as with other IT headaches, it’s something that needs to be monitored. Concentrating your systems on the cloud, in some cases, makes them a more appealing target, but in almost all cases it reduces the amount of people needed to ensure all security updates and patches are applied to your services. The key to cloud security is involving all of your partners in the process and making sure they share in the responsibility.
Thirdly, as the hype about “green” supply chains grows, be careful not to assume that clouds are green because they reduce your physical infrastructure. Clouds can seem green because they allow customers to optimize their equipment and improve efficiency compared to private data centers. The issue for the cloud is that other data centers are popping up to run these systems, and the energy usage can be drastically different from your own. Previously, popular locations for private data centers had an abundance of natural and renewable energy sources because companies used that to be greener. Moving to the cloud, however, can easily mean a shift from wind or hydroelectric power to a location that’s predominantly coal- and oil-powered, which can easily increase a carbon footprint.
The cloud is just like a private data center in that it is only as clean or green as its energy usage and where that energy comes from.
The last issue to consider with the cloud is the mythos around cloud savings. Ask for projections and crunch the numbers yourself -- that’s incredibly important. Cloud computing won’t save everyone money, because nothing works in every case.
The nature of the cloud is that it reduces owned physical infrastructure and optimizes the equipment that remains. The optimization, however, means using rented infrastructure at another location, which means it doesn’t always reduce overall resources. The cloud allows companies to use more resources when it is demanded and less when they’re in a slump, which can save money in downturns and improve growth. For companies with fairly stable usage, there is often very little gain.
For companies that are growing, a lack of initial investment can help keep them afloat. The trick is to find the sweet spot for the cloud and make sure you switch to a licensed or on-site operation once the cost projections of the cloud rise above licensing costs. In the long run, companies that stay cloud-only can easily pay more money.
The biggest thing about the cloud is asking questions when someone demonstrates new functionality or services. The goal for everyone is to keep customers happy and make money, but that doesn’t mean every company is looking to improve every aspect in the name of the customer. For many cloud computing options, the person seeing the most savings can easily become the vendor. - Geoff Whiting