Oct 24, 2008 (08:10 PM EDT)
Time To Think About Cloud Computing
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Although 65% of the business technology professionals we polled for our recent InformationWeek Analytics cloud computing report have not yet identified moving IT functions into the cloud as a priority, we expect that to change in fairly short order.
This is, simply, an evolutionary step.
The proliferation of telework, laptops, smartphones, and other Internet-connected gadgets means enterprise users may possess two or three different devices, and frustration is rampant as they attempt to synchronize information across disparate form factors and operating systems. They just want to get to the applications and data they need, when they need them.
Cloud computing vendors are riding a perfect storm of software-as-a-service and grid computing, virtualization, co-location, outsourced Web hosting, and pervasive broadband and 3G wireless Internet access to enable the move toward anywhere, anytime access to business applications.
Now, IT's ingrained skepticism was apparent in the 23% of business technology pros polled who, when asked how they felt about cloud computing, wrote it off as "just hype; old premise, different name." We understand their stance--transformational change is always difficult--but today's mobile, interconnected environments demand new approaches to delivering business apps. Cloud computing will move to the forefront of the market, and IT organizations will not be able to ignore it. Nor should they, a fact not lost on other respondents: "I believe that the ability to buy CPU time, storage, and application function in a SaaS-type model in the same ways that companies buy electricity, rent, and cleaning services will do amazing things for budgets and planning," says one reader.
In our poll, the No. 1 cloud resource that respondents expect to access within two years is a slate of business apps, like CRM or ERP, delivered over the Internet. In second place is using a provider's raw CPU time and storage resources to run apps that IT purchases or develops on its own. When not burdened with the costs and time to set up an underlying infrastructure, organizations can focus on app requirements as they relate to the business and either design a custom app or modify one that already exists in a cloud environment.
As for transitioning services into the cloud, our poll indicates that storage, archiving, and disaster recovery functions are most likely to be moved. Makes sense--in most organizations, these capabilities are the last to receive attention and funding, at least until a major outage occurs. Cloud computing environments can offer good levels of failover, redundancy, and overall resiliency of resources without a significant infrastructure investment. Another area that IT should take ownership of in cloud computing environment is testing the disaster recovery capabilities to ensure that they are providing the advertised services.
While 77% say "going green" is a somewhat or very important driver for outsourcing, other data suggests that costs are truly the most important factor. Still, it's great when green initiatives align with cost savings, and cloud computing is one of those cases.
NOT SO FAST
We don't want to give the impression cloud computing is trouble free and right for every organization. In fact, 2008 saw a long, hot summer for cloud uptime: Google's Gmail and Apps services went down, and on July 20, Amazon S3 was unavailable for eight hours. Outages like these, if they continue, will shake IT's confidence in the idea that users will be able to access critical information at any time. Large cloud providers need to offer near constant uptime. It seems we haven't left the concept of five nines behind, and these outages illustrate that IT must have a backup plan in place for those apps that can't go down, even for an hour.
Then there are WAN costs. How much extra bandwidth you'll need to cover the additional throughput required for SaaS depends greatly on the types of applications needed, but network failover and connectivity are key. And companies with huge existing IT investments will be much more gradual in their adoption of cloud computing, and rightly so.
When exploring cloud-based services, there are several key questions to ask providers. We recommend developing a requirements template that combines these questions with business-specific issues before shopping. Start by delving into service levels; this peek into the underlying architecture will let you judge other areas of the provider's business.
Service-level agreements must clearly define the quality of service, and the provider should clearly state what credit or remediation will be provided if the SLA is violated. Ask for documentation that, internally, the provider has ensured that it can manage its environment to levels promised to customers and that it has policies and automated procedures in place to deal with performance issues or outages.
With an understanding of the SLA, you can now peel back the marketing information and understand more about the cloud provider's infrastructure. If there's a failure, how will it provide resiliency? Is there a failover mechanism? What corporate security policies are in place? What type of configuration management is used to protect against accidental changes that could negatively affect security? Dozens of other questions revolve around the specific IT component that you're moving to the cloud, and we cover more in our full Analytics Report, available at cloudcomputing.informationweek.com.