Countering the cloud debate

The move to cloud computing is inevitable but here's a look at the core concerns that are still making CIOs cautious about making the jump.

The IT world has embraced the concept of cloud computing. Vendors, users, consultants, analysts, we all try to figure out how to leverage the increasing commoditisation of IT from both an enterprise and a personal perspective.

Discussions on COTS have turned into discussions on SaaS, People running their own data centre claim they run (or are developing) a private cloud. Shared service providers rebrand their services as community cloud. IT professionals in user enterprises dream to move up the value chain by leaving the boring I&O stuff to vendors and developing more vertical business analysis and demand management skills. What used to be called outsourcing is now named cloud sourcing, while selective sourcing morphs into hybrid clouds or cloud brokerage. Also personally, we look at our USB stick or disk drive with disdain, waiting for endless, ultracheap personal clouds to host all of our emails, pictures, music.

It looks like none of us is truly reflecting about whether this is good or bad. Of course, many are moving cautiously, they understand they are not ready for prime time for all sorts of security, confidentiality, maturity reasons. However it always looks like they have to justify themselves. “Cloud first”, some say, and you’ll have to tell us why you are not planning to go cloud. So those who want to hold to their own infrastructure (without painting it as a “private cloud”) or want to keep using traditional delivery models from their vendors (such as hosting or colocation) almost feel like children of a lesser God when compared to all those bright and lucky IT executives who can venture into the cloud (and – when moving early enough – still get an interview on a newspaper or a magazine).

Let me be clear. I am intimately convinced that the move to cloud computing is inevitable and necessary; even it may happen more slowly that many believe or hope for. However I would like to voice some concerns that may give good reasons not to move. There are probably many others, but it is important to ask ourselves – both as users and providers – tougher questions to make sure we have convincing answers as we approach or dive into the cloud.

If data is the fuel of the 21st century, why should I fill somebody else’s tank?

Social data, open data, big data: I think it was UK Minister Francis Maude who said recently that open data is the new raw material, and Gartner’s head of research Peter Sondergaard used the expression “oil of the 21st century” almost two years ago at one of our symposia.

One could argue that it does not really matter where your data is hosted, as all you need is cheap storage and powerful analysis tools. But is that true? Why do countries build their own oil reserves? Do I risk conceding a competitive advantage by letting my data being hosted somewhere else?

If IT is a key driver for economic development, why should I let vendors in another country thrive?

The cloud is already displacing traditional roles in user IT organisations, and will progressively hit smaller IT providers (including cloud ones) through an inevitable process of market consolidation. The few large remaining vendors will be headquartered and operating in certain countries and not others. So what are we going to do with all those IT specialists that many digital agendas say we need to modernise the country? Will they all find a job in technology, maybe moving up the value chain or inventing uses of IT that we cannot even imagine now, or will they be underemployed or unemployed? Should a state or a nation or a province maintain local infrastructure, local software development, local data management as a way not to lose its technical edge?

If large cloud provider become target of terrorist attacks or just go out of business, should I put all my eggs in their basket?

Many debate the actual or perceived reliability and security of cloud providers. But as they grow bigger and we rely on them for more and more of our IT needs, they become a possible target for physical or cyber terrorist attacks. In the past enemies would try to neutralise your manufacturing and transportation capabilities, but in the future they may simply coordinate attacks to cloud providers to hurt multiple countries at once.

Even in a more peaceful world, events over the last few years have shown that no organisation is “too big to fail”, actually do. Could a series of incidents or a financial crisis affect the viability of cloud service providers? And even if we could manage to retrieve all our data, would we ever have enough space to store it all, after years that we have relied on cheap and apparently limitless storage? Would we have the bandwidth to transfer petabytes of data when everybody else is trying to do the same?

What if the internet becomes way more expensive in the future?

When looking at the business case for cloud, very often people forget the cost of the network. That’s seen as a real commodity, so it does not make a great difference on how much we pay per employee per month. But, in reality, we are assuming that the current model is sustainable, while – with the explosion of remote access due to wide cloud adoption as well as due to market and regulatory changes – it is not impossible that the pricing structure changes when we are already stuck with our virtual assets in the cloud.

Andrea Di Maio is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research, where he focuses on the public sector, with particular reference to e-government strategies, Web 2.0, the business value of IT, open-source software. You can read his other posts here. 

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