Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Forecast : 'Cloudy'

Cloud computing is gaining a lot of hype these days. Beside the hype, lately there were some real world success stories of large scale cloud implementations as well. One instance is when the catastrophic floods hit Queensland, the state government together with couple of private IT organizations was able to put up a relief management web site (based on Windows Azure) within 4 days to cater millions of relief requests. This capability to scale up and down quickly is one of the nicest features I see on Cloud. Another success story is from a company which handles sporting event ticket sales. This is again an excellent domain for flexible up-scaling where ticket sales will be very high the day tickets are issued.

But as usual with any new technology the reservations are still there. This is the time when the tech-heads needs to justify to their managers the potential and benefits of the Cloud. Listed below are some common questions that can be asked by your manager.

1. Are we loosing control?
It will freak many CTOs to understand that the data centre of their whole system is someone else's responsibility.
- Lack of control over Availability
This is a myth. Your chances of scaling up to increase availability in extremely agile fashion is infact one essential feature of the Cloud. What this means to the business is that your costs could be more operational (rather than one-off), just like utilities-Electricity. So availability and the cost of availlability is one of the last things the CTO should be concerned about.

- Hard(er) Disaster Recovery
Since the cloud is essentially geographically distributed it will stand a better chance of being up and running in the wake of a disaster. Also the vendors running cloud infrastructure are much more experienced in running data centres than most of the companies who are running their own data centre.

It would be interesting to study the SLAs of cloud vendors in light of availability and disaster recovery.

2. How secure is our data?
Many institutes do not like their data to be out of their walls. Many government institutes and financial institutes are popular examples. There are couple of answers to this. One answer is private clouds where you control the cloud. The other more desirable option is to understand that your applications comprises of both data (both sensitive and insensitive-public) and application logic. It is very much possible to distribute the application such that most computation and public data resides in cloud while the sensitive data still continue to reside inhouse.

3. Can we be sued?
The advances in IT continue to outpace the law and regulations. This result is a situation where most of the regulations around IT/Systems are severely outdated. Most of the time we are uncertain to say the least. Again most of the regulatory anyway focuses on data less than computational power. Thus a hybrid cloud approach has a higher potential for success in this context.
At this moment it would be wise to discuss with your legal specialists for specific pit-falls.

It will be very interesting to see how much of the hype surrounding the Cloud would turn out to be real.
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