Industry Outlook is a regular Data Center Journal Q&A series that presents expert views on market trends, technologies and other issues relevant to data centers and IT.
This week, Industry Outlook asks Markley Group CTO Patrick Gilmore about cloud computing in the enterprise and where it might be headed. As Markley Group’s CTO, Patrick is responsible for overseeing the development and maintenance of the company’s state-of-the-art technology foundation, while working to ensure that the company remains a leading-edge technology provider. Before Markley, Patrick spent over 13 years as chief network architect at Akamai Technologies. He is currently on the board of directors for the Seattle Internet Exchange and the London Internet Exchange.
Industry Outlook: With all of the advantages of cloud computing, why are some companies still hesitating to establish a company-wide strategy?
Patrick Gilmore: The biggest hurdle to companies adopting cloud computing is the “do it yourself” mentality.
I speak with IT managers and CTOs all the time whose biggest worry is that they cannot physically touch their servers. When I proceed to ask them when the last time they did physically touch their servers, however, most cannot remember, or they say years ago.
IO: Can you expand on what you mean by BYOC? What does it mean and why do companies need to be aware of it?
PG: Bring your own cloud (BYOC) usually refers to employees using personal accounts on services like Dropbox or Google Drive to store corporate documents and files. Employees typically use these services because they are convenient and allow employees to access work files wherever they are—at home, on the go, at the office, while traveling and so on.
Unfortunately for companies, this can mean serious security and compliance implications.
IO: What are some of the worst-case security scenarios for companies that don’t enact cloud policies, particularly with BYOC?
PG: BYOC poses serious security risks. Suppose an employee’s home computer is infected with a virus—his or her Dropbox account could be compromised, leading to proprietary-information leaks, such as sales and pricing spreadsheets or confidential customer data. Not only is this dangerous for your business, but you could also be at risk of violating corporate contracts and NDAs.
Although these situations can have serious implications, the worst-case scenario involves violating certifications such as HIPPA or PCI. Such a violation can result in a loss of business when customer requirements cannot be met—all because the company did not properly implement company-wide cloud policies.
IO: Is there anything companies can do to protect against BYOC while avoiding making it harder for employees to do their jobs?
PG: The best thing for companies to do is provide useful, easy-to-use cloud storage that satisfies things like security audits and certifications. Employees are going out of their way to use unapproved cloud solutions because they serve a purpose. Meet their needs and employees will not go outside the corporate environment.
IO: What do you see as the next step for this trend—will there be acceptance and policy, as occurred with BYOD, or will a majority of companies move to a company-wide cloud strategy?
PG: I think a company-wide strategy is where most companies will go, and I believe that is the better solution.
IO: How can IT managers and CIOs better convince their bosses to move forward with a company-wide cloud strategy?
PG: First, a company-wide cloud strategy will solve the problems listed above. But perhaps just as importantly, it also makes the workforce more efficient. People do not use a cloud storage application because it is trendy; they use it to get work done. Companies need to help their employees get more work done and be more secure by giving them the proper tools.
IO: What are some other cloud trends you’ve been seeing with your cloud customers?
PG: Companies are finding that they can do more with less. We see customers with multiple racks full of servers and find that using only a few virtual machines satisfies their needs.
Sometimes this is because the existing servers are old, whereas cloud infrastructure is always up-to-date. Sometimes it is because people overprovision physical hardware to ensure they never run into a capacity crunch—a problem that evaporates with cloud. Along those lines, sometimes people purchase servers for peak load, even if that load happens only once a month, which is one of the primary reasons to use cloud computing. Sometimes it is simply not knowing what they need when buying equipment, but being able to size things dynamically in the cloud lets them “right-size.”
These issues only add to the savings of moving to the cloud.
IO: Where do you see the corporate cloud headed in 2014 and beyond?
PG: My crystal ball is cloudy and slightly cracked, but I’ll go ahead and make a prediction despite not knowing exactly where the industry will head.
I see a couple possible trends. Today people ask for “XX CPU, YY RAM, ZZ disk.” In the future, they should say “I have application XX and users YY; make it work.” Worrying about the underlying details is so “last decade.” Computing should be a utility. You do not know or care how wide the water pipe is in your street, you just want good pressure in your shower. And computing should be the same. You just want the application to work and not have to worry about the underlying hardware, virtual or not.
Second, I think most companies will move to 100 percent cloud computing. Today people “buy the base and rent the spikes,” thinking it is less expensive to buy, colocate and operate a dedicated server than rent a cloud instance 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That idea is already beginning to be tested on the basis of what I said above. But it should go away completely over time. As a cloud and colocation provider, if I cannot purchase computers more cost-effectively; house, power and cool them better than you can; and operate them more efficiently, I am doing something wrong.
Economies of scale are real. And with the staff, experience, automation and other expertise required to be a cloud provider, we should be able to rent you a computer 24/7/365 cheaper than you can buy, house and operate yourself.
Or at least that’s my vision of the future.