Monday, June 28, 2010

Cloud computing - White, Fluffy and Safe or a Hazy, Mysterious step into the Unknown? PART I

Cloud 101: The Basics

Cloud computing is clearly one of today’s most enticing technology areas and is currently one of the top buzzwords in the Hi-Tech industry. Cloud computing is not a new concept; most of us already use this technology on a daily basis through services like Hotmail, Gmail and Facebook. In the simplest of terms, cloud computing is IT-as-a-Service; rather than an organization building its own IT infrastructure to host databases or applications, this is done by a third party with large server farms. The organization then accesses its data and applications over the internet. In other words, under this new procurement model, IT becomes a utility, consumed like water or electricity.

Cloud computing is growing fast, according to Gartner the market is currently worth about $2.4bn, but is predicted to grow to $8.1bn by 2013. Several large companies have already partially adopted the ‘Cloud’ approach including all of the top five software companies. More recently business services provider Rentokil Initial has rolled out a cloud email solution to its 30,000 employees.

It’s not difficult to see the benefits of cloud computing and enthusiasts are quick to point out its key benefits:

Scalability: Organizations that have grown rapidly, perhaps through acquisitions, often struggle with the complexities required to develop a single coherent enterprise infrastructure. Furthermore, cloud systems are built to cope with sharp increases in workload and seasonal fluctuations. Take for example a tour operator who has to cope with a huge surge in demand during the summer months or a disaster recovery team that requires additional computing power to respond to a large scale emergency.

Cost Effective: As IT providers host services for multiple companies; sharing complex infrastructure can cut costs and allows organizations to only pay for what they actually use.

Speed: Simple cloud services can be deployed rapidly and work ‘out of the box’. This is a great advantage for small emerging businesses that may need to establish a secure e-commerce website quickly. Equally, for more complex software and data base solutions, cloud computing allows organizations to skip the hardware procurement and capital expenditure phase.

Mobility: Many companies today operate a geographically diverse workforce. Cloud services are designed to be used anywhere in the world, so organizations with globally dispersed and mobile employees can access their systems on the move.

However, despite the trumpeted business and technical advantages of cloud computing, many businesses have been relatively slow on the take up. Major corporations that are cloud users are for the most part putting only their less sensitive data in the cloud. There appear to be significant concerns over certain aspects of cloud computing, including: reduced control & governance, regulatory requirements, excessive standardization, usability and fears over issues of connectivity.

However, without a shadow of a doubt the biggest area of concern is the impact on information security. Will corporate and customer data be safe? What about data protection and legal compliance requirements? What are the corporate risks involved in entrusting a single entity with the data of an entire organization.

To be continued...