Cloud computing business model raises security, maturity concerns

Businesses are taking a cautious approach to adopting the cloud computing model, according to members of our Server Virtualization Advisory Board.

The cloud computing business model is generating a lot of buzz in the IT world. Proponents say cloud computing will change the way companies do business and highlight the role of virtualization technologies.

But major questions about the cloud computing model still exist, particularly in the areas of security, regulatory compliance and the maturity of the technology. And its definition is so broad, it can be difficult to pin down its real-world applications. So we've asked the Server Virtualization Advisory Board to take a stab at it in our question of the month:

How do you define cloud computing, and what do you see as its biggest benefits and challenges?

 

Jack Kaiser, International Computerware

We have been using this definition: "Cloud Computing is where computing resources -- including data storage, processing, security, archive and recovery mechanisms -- are created in defined, independent, standardized environments, with the ability to grow and move any of those resources between the clouds on demand."

There are many different opinions and theories on what cloud computing is and is not, and that is one of the challenges, in addition to security and defining service-level agreements. The biggest benefit is the ability to scale on demand without procuring hardware, software and services, saving time and money. The futures is bright for cloud computing, but pardon the pun, it is a little foggy on what it will look like eventually.

 

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

Applications like Google Docs, hosted email and some SAP options may be considered part of the cloud today, but uses around data storage, CPU cycles and programming frameworks are the real future of this technology. These non-glamorous capabilities are in use today with products like Amazon S3, Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure to some degree. These will continue to evolve, extending the definition of virtualization even further.

The benefits of these emerging technologies -- their ability to reach out and dynamically increase or decrease resource utilization, depending on business needs, while providing enterprise-class redundancy -- is very compelling.

Healthcare will see challenges around security and compliance (i.e., HIPAA). Sending data outside of the organization has been taboo. This has been the reason for the creation of so many internal clouds and, in my organization's case, heavy virtual server utilization. For the utilization of external resources to be welcomed, these concerns will need to be addressed.

 

CJ Metz, Orange County United Way

When I think of "cloud computing," I think of a network which is accessible to its intended users over a WAN link in the same manner as a traditional networked LAN.

On the plus side I see cloud computing as being able to provide us with a much more streamlined and centralized form of systems management. We are currently looking at cloud computing to provide the ability to host a single instance of managed Exchange, along with other common applications, to multiple branch locations. This would, in effect, reduce the management staff necessary and the licensing required.

I believe cloud computing has a huge offering in the future through the application of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Microsoft's Direct Access technology.

On the downside I just simply do not see this as a matured enough technology yet. While there are great strides being made to increase cloud based network speed (branch caching) and streaming media (direct access), they are not yet proven and reliable in my opinion.

 

Eric Siebert, Boston Market

Clouds have always been loosely defined to me, but my interpretation of cloud computing is a group of servers working together to provide services and applications to users. These servers are dynamically scalable to provide resources to applications as needed, and virtualization is a key component that makes cloud computing possible.

The biggest challenge to cloud computing adoption I see is getting users who are used to traditional computing models to migrate their core business functions to a cloud computing model. The cloud is often seen as that big mysterious data center where users have limited or no control over their systems. Consequently it requires a high level of trust that the cloud will function properly. This loss of control, combined with potential data security risks and the reliability of the cloud, are the biggest challenges for users who are trying to decide whether or not to embrace cloud computing.

 

Shannon Snowden, New Age Technologies

We are finally at a point with reliable network connectivity and mobile device accessibility where cloud computing is the logical next step in how users interact with applications. From the end users' point of view, cloud computing is ubiquitous access to their applications, regardless if the platform is a phone, netbook or workstation.

From the technical point of view, it's the challenge of creating a geographically dispersed, secure mesh network that is flexible to implement and support. With the significant effort that companies like Google and Microsoft are putting into delivering applications via Software as a Service, many companies will rethink how they deliver their applications to end users. As confidence in clouds grow, a hybrid blend of some company-supported and some externally supported applications will most likely emerge as the typical corporate technical back end.

 

Dave Sobel, Evolve Technologies

I define cloud computing as a solution moved farther away from a direct client/server model to one where the system is located with some greater logical distance from the client. This could be a system on the Internet in a service, like Amazon S3 or Windows Azure, or a private cloud, such as one provided by a solution provider. An on-premise Hardware as a Service can also be cloud computing. The advantage is one of utility -- the maintenance is shifted from the client to the provider. The disadvantage is control -- configuration is potentially less customizable in this scenario.

 

Rick Vanover, virtualization expert

Simply put, cloud computing is a service. This can be with traditional IT infrastructure or utilizing solutions from a provider. I see the following as the biggest benefits for externally hosted cloud computing:

  • Elasticity: The ability to add or remove computing capacity. This also goes for the supporting elements of capacity, namely storage.
  • Low ongoing costs: Once you are there, the run-mode costs are low. Getting there is another story.

I see the biggest challenges for externally hosted cloud solutions being:

  • Migration pains: There will be great difficulty to make the transition, especially for traditional "brick and mortar" IT environments.
  • Data security: A loaded point, for sure. But there is no clear answer on how secure externally hosted storage clouds currently are.

Have an idea for a future Server Virtualization Advisory Board question of the month? Email Colin Steele, Site Editor.

This was last published in July 2009

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