Clear up the cloud computing confusion

When ComputerWorld Canada recently held a blogging contest, we asked contributors to discuss the theme of cloud computing. Although it’s creating a lot of talk in some IT industry circles, our bloggers sounded less than impressed with the concept.

“We used to have centralized computing in our company (IBM mainframes and 3270 terminals, remember?) — and we even drew network diagrams with clouds. We also had service bureau for timesharing services. Isn’t cloud computing just the return of centralization on an even bigger scale?” asked one of them, Don Sheppard. “I don’t mean having everything in one physical computer — but the appearance of it through integration, virtualization and the Internet.”

Generic needs?

Another contestant, Chris Lau, agreed. “The functions offered can be deployed by an organization, as long as those functions do not rely on feedback, customization, and close interaction from business areas. The uptake for cloud computing for an organization will depend on how generic its needs are,” he wrote. “(It) will appeal to companies whose business processes are not fully dependent on customized IT solutions. Companies will have to evaluate security risks and measure network uptime and accessibility costs. Only then will IT staff need to retire their programming certifications and to upgrade to network ones.”

The response from our contestants suggests a few issues around cloud computing that need to be addressed. These include a standard definition, although for the sake of this article we’ll explain it as a way of hosting data and applications online by a third party. There is the lack of consistent pricing models, which tend to vary between permission-based usage or licences, and assistance-based fees that charge users for service and support. Perhaps the biggest issue is being able to move between one vendor’s cloud and another, a point which was raised by David Young of Joyent in his proposed “Cloud Nine” specification.

IT managers could wait for the vendors to sort these things out, or they could proactively help evolve cloud computing into a truly effective model for managing their resources. There are some easy ways to get started. First, bookmark Web sites such as http://cloudcomputing.qrimp.com, which offer a compilation of cloud vendors, blogs and videos. Second, join the online Google Group devoted to cloud computing (http://groups.google.ca/group/cloud-computing) and jump into the forums. Third, keep an eye out and plan to attend conferences such as the recent Structure 2008 and the recent “CloudCamp.”

Fog computing

Finally, IT managers should prioritize their efforts to figure out whether the cloud model fits at all. Some firms will be reluctant to take applications outside their firewalls (adapting the model internally, which has sometimes been called “fog computing” is generally disparaged). A person who identified himself as Randall recently posted a comment to the Google Group which may also be the trigger for an even deeper discussion. “The comparison of cloud computing and electrical utilities is a good one and applicable in many senses, including standardization,” he noted. “But somewhere in that analogy we are forgetting there is no information in electricity.”



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