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Is Your Business Safe Without Your Head in the Clouds?

05 November 2008  |  2436 views  |  0

Cloud computing is the new name for the old idea of shared computer resources. I once ran a system which was by day a bank and by night a global manufacturer's JIT hub. Sharing computer resources is not new. In the race to reign in operational costs sharing provides obvious economies of scale.

Hosted  processes, servers, grid computing and cloud computing are all a variation on the shared theme. The sharing can be either sharing a server, a rack or array of servers, a grid or whatever. The newness of it all is that they generally allow for some form of web services, hence the 'cloud'.

Security seems to be the obstacle holding back that cloud with a silver lining. It wasn't an issue when you had to load your own tapes and feed your own punchcards into a shared computer, you could lock them up at the end of a shift. The computer would be sitting there in a pristine state, needing even a manually typed config to boot it up, at the beginning of the next shift. The thought of running processes on a machine where other people's processes are running might be scary.

Most IT people are thinking grey clouds. Non-technical managers can only compare it to their concept of cloud computing - the web. Drama.

I actually think the cloud is potentially more secure.

Not because I expect existing practices and architecture to immediately translate, rather I expect methodologies to be developed which take advantage of the cloud and understand it's limitations. Various providers have different approaches from farms of dedicated multi-processor arrays to individual re-usable processes or ready built  message queues hosted across thousands of fiber-netted machines. Your processes need not be on shared machines, your cloud could even be private.

A key benefit might be the rapid provisioning and testing, tremendous  capacity-testing ability, and shorter time to market possible, using an on-demand cloud environment. Within hours of designing your architecture for a product or service developers can begin to test code in a cloud environment. The cloud also provides a great way to simulate vast numbers of users, the meat and potatoes of testing, without the customer ever seeing your pre-beta. Some providers are a credit card payment away from live testing your code and using a library of available routines.

It takes literally thinking outside the box.

Once you do so, all sorts of interesting opportunities arise, as they should when you are suddenly in command of virtually unlimited computing power. I suppose it just takes a certain type of mind to see the limitless picture. You can't blame IT people at all, just ask any CIO how processes beyond their immediate control generate the greatest despair when things go awry. It doesn't matter if it is a third party provider's fault, the drama is just as great. While I'm sure cloud computing isn't a solution for every business process, eventually it might be part of most. Specialists hosting your cloud are most likely better at maintaining systems and they can focus on the platform, while you focus on your project. The larger providers have multiple cloud hosting facilities, enabling continuity and backup environments from the very start of a project.

I'm predicting big things for the 'cloud'. It might not be immediate, but it will be pervasive. Its early days and pricing models, security and dependability issues will need to pan out and they will.  It is inevitable and there's already more than one cloud with Amazon, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo and a host of well equipped mavericks tooling up. There is even a joint effort between HP, Intel and Yahoo with a globally distributed, Internet scale test environment aiming to provide a platform for collaboration between academia, business and government.

Choosing which pilot to try soaring in the clouds with is up to you, but an existing relationship, or a provider's expertise in your area of interest might guide you. Perhaps a low key trial with a maverick might suit your style. Providers are taking different approaches and some investigation will quickly reveal which capabilities and approach best matches your needs. It is a good idea to consider trust, and make sure your provider isn't a potentially a competitor.

A smart business might find a university and sponsor some students to see what new approaches they come up with to carry out some of your business processes in the cloud (some already are). Sure there'll be some key things that you'll still want to do in-house but I strongly advise businesses to explore the possibilities. Remember to keep your feet on the ground and you'll find the sky isn't the limit. I'm already thinking multi-cloud.

One thing is for sure you'll eventually try it or you will at least use the cloud, perhaps you are already - without even knowing.

Cloud computing really means having scalable resources hosted for you empowering you to get projects going fast and connect your customers to your business processes without first investing in a lot of expensive infrastructure. That's why it is interesting and that is why it is dispruptive because a minnow can turn into a shark in the blink of an eye without a single venture capitalist in sight.

Cloud computing is progress, it is power. The power of ideas on a scale never before imagined.

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