These days, there’s all sorts of buzz about clouds, virtualized services, and the like. For example, Amazon is making a big deal about their “Elastic Compute Cloud,”, Sun continues to talk about their Utility Computing model, and so forth. You can add SaaS, Grid Computing, Virtual Datacenter providers, application outsourcing, and more to that list.
The truth is, we’ve had what’s being called “cloud computing” for quite a while. Blogs, online document sharing, all of your free email accounts, the web-based maps you use, etc. all qualify as applications that run “in the cloud.”
Also, a growing number of companies are using online services to replace what were (or would have been in the olde days) in-house applications. Examples include Salesforce.com, Siebel On Demand, Compli, and other such services.
So what’s with all the hype about cloud computing now? Well, we’re in the midst of an industry cycle that mirrored the US election cycle we just completed: hope is high, and everyone is looking for Change.
In the case of cloud computing, people are looking to reduce costs while creating a centralized (yet location-independent) way to access shared data. The side benefit of this is they can often reduce datacenter space, power, and cooling (or at least they believe they can).
Sounds pretty good, eh? Well – not so fast. Remember: Hope is not a strategy, and Trust is not a control. Even though you can get that compelling Change you’re hankering for, you can’t outsource accountability. If you’re Management, you still need to ensure the health of your business. That means understanding some basic aspects of any cloud-provided service. For example:
- Is the cloud provider a viable, stable business? What assurance and protection will you have as a customer?
- What’s the data provider’s risk & security model? Don’t forget – even if “they” host your stuff, Management is still accountable for protecting company and customer data.
- What’s your fallback plan? If something goes wrong, or you lose connectivity to your cloud-based service, what will you do? Keep in mind you may need to deal with this on both a short- and long-term basis, depending on the nature of the interruption.
- Note: this should lead you, logically, to ask your provider what their fallback plans – and commitments – are.
The list could go on, but I hope you get the point. Clouds are a lot like the Application Service Provider (ASP) model that was so prolific just prior to the dot-com crash around 2000, and a lot of those providers aren’t around. The benefits are there for sure – just make certain you know what you’re getting into, and whether you can manage the risks.