Separating Fact From Fiction in Cloud Computing

December 10, 2012 8 Comments »
Separating Fact From Fiction in Cloud Computing

Do Common Cloud Assumptions Hold Up to Scrutiny?

The cloud. The name conjures images of an obscuring mist always out of our reach. The reality of cloud computing can seem just as mysterious. Before hurtling into this nebulous IT frontier, it is important to separate hype from reality. This discussion closely examines the validity of some commonly held beliefs about the cloud and a summary of those findings.

Cloud computing is a powerful and important tool for today’s businesses, but like any tool it must be used properly to realize its true benefit. Responsible businesses and IT departments will take the time to fully understand the risks and benefits associated with the cloud, challenge common assumptions and misperceptions, and make informed decisions that benefit their organizations and their customers.

In evaluating these cloud-related assumptions, Emerson Network Power researchers focused specifically on public clouds and posed a simple question: Fact or fiction?

Everyone is moving to the cloud.

Fiction—but maybe not for long.

Although cloud migration isn’t universal yet, unquestionably it is a formidable trend that will only increase in adoption and importance. Already, according to a 2011 survey from Advanced Micro Devices, about 37 percent of companies are using the cloud. And 24 percent of the respondents to a September 2011 Emerson Network Power survey of data center managers, resellers and engineers said they have plans to pursue or implement a cloud-computing strategy over the next 18 months. According to a 2011 report from IDC, worldwide revenue from public IT cloud services exceeded $21.5 billion in 2010 and is projected to reach $72.9 billion in 2015. Forrester Research is even more bullish, estimating the global cloud-computing market to reach $241 billion in 2020, according to an April 2011 report called Sizing the Cloud. Regardless of who is more accurate, clearly the cloud is growing—and it is far more than the empty hype some suggested as recently as a year ago.

Why the holdouts and stragglers? Although providers have improved data security and privacy considerably since the inception of the cloud, lingering concerns over proprietary data access, location and transfer continue to limit widespread adoption. Overall system flexibility is another concern with public clouds. Additionally, outages at several high-profile cloud providers likely are reason enough to deter some businesses that depend on uncompromised network availability for business survival.

Moving to the cloud means I no longer have to worry about downtime.

Fiction.

If your organization moves to an external cloud provider, the risk of an outage simply shifts from your data center to the provider’s. The only change is control. In your own data center, you control the infrastructure and availability of your network and data. That control, of course, brings with it a number of ownership and accountability issues that may have been a factor in moving to the cloud in the first place. Control means responsibility, and the burden of responsibility for ensuring network availability is something some IT managers would rather not shoulder.

If you do move to the cloud, control of the infrastructure protecting your data largely shifts to the cloud provider. It is important to review the provider’s data center availability record and IT infrastructure before making the move. It’s quite possible the provider’s data center infrastructure is more robust than your own, but do your research before making the jump to ensure optimal integrity, accountability and strong service-level agreements.

If your organization opts for its own private cloud, it may gain a measure of protection from single server failures, but the damage done by a full data center outage remains devastating. Maintaining a robust power and cooling infrastructure is critical to supporting a private cloud, and monitoring and data center infrastructure management become even more critical.

Ultimately, it is important to remember that simply moving to the cloud does not eliminate downtime concerns or the damage an outage can do to your business. Your customers will remember your network failure—not the fact that the failure was the fault of your cloud provider.

The cloud always reduces costs and workload.

Fiction.

This is a common argument for cloud adoption, but depending on the applications you plan to support with the cloud, it may or may not be true. In the short term at least, it’s likely a transition to the cloud will be labor intensive. Businesses moving to the cloud do so to address a specific need and to leverage previously unavailable resources (especially servers) that, through the cloud, are available on demand. But adapting cloud services to the specific needs of your business requires a culture shift that can be difficult to manage. Even when the configuration fits, sorting through what can and can’t be moved to the cloud is a time-consuming process. Increased operational efficiency may be the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s not a short tunnel.

About the Author

Matt Zieg is Manager of Product Marketing at Emerson Network Power.

Photo courtesy of mnsc

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