Cloud storage, putting it in the cloud, cloud data; these and similar expressions are entering business language. The Cloud is being touted as a solution to all hosting, data management and infrastructure woes. The very name conjures up some thing soft, white, fluffy – essentially innocuous.
But what does it mean? Is it really an answer for business?
Cloud computing is essentially an outsourcing mechanism. It means that instead of building all the storage capacity, infrastructure, platforms and software inside your company, you can treat those as a service and use the service as you need. The concept has been around for a while – first as a theory and now we’re heading towards reality with a range of solutions that come under the definition of cloud computing. The simplest of these, Software as a Service (SaaS), was something I implemented for our company’s Business School using a learning management system from NetDimensions about 10 years ago.
It’s a natural development, and a good step. It means that a company can access flexible capacity quickly, even temporarily. It is part of a trend of commoditisation of IT, where parts of IT are standard and can be treated as a utility rather than as a strategic supply.
But there are issues;
(1) Whose Cloud?
If you’re a large company you probably have a several service suppliers all of whom want to provide services in the cloud. What they mean by that is their cloud, which means you could still end up deal with several different environments.
(2) Whose Data?
By using the cloud you are handing your data over to an external party. In theory they could use or alter the data. This is a big privacy concern for many end users and companies considering using the cloud.
(3) Who’s There?
Security remains the biggest barrier for many companies thinking about adopting the cloud, potential customers quite rightly have concerns about issues such as access to sensitive data, privacy, exploitation of bugs, recovery, malicious insiders and multi-tenancy issues.
(4) Legal Issues
There are a whole host of legal and compliance issues to examine when looking at cloud partners. If you’re in the EU for example, you’re probably going to want a data centre hosted within the EU to comply with legislation regarding the export of personal data.
I think the cloud is the inevitable next step in enterprise computing, but it’s a complex change for an organisation to make and there are many problems to solve before it’s implemented. It’s not as simple as “putting it in the cloud” sounds.