Welcome to the global cloud

“The cloud has gone global,” said James Staten, a principal analyst with Forrester Research. “And now we need to figure out how we can make sure there’s a consistent experience across it.” Now IT managers staring up at the cloud must tackle interoperability, along with the other challenges of cloud-based computing like regulatory issues and an ever-growing list of vendors.

“Some countries have specific rules set up, whether it’s protecting information from leaving, or if there are political things involved. Sometimes these regulations come from the companies themselves, about data stored within their boundaries or people who don’t see the United States as the safest place,” said Staten during a 3Tera Inc.-hosted webinar entitled, “Global Cloud Solutions for the Enterprise.”

Interoperability is another challenge, said John Sloan, a senior research analyst with the Info-Tech Research Group. “Standardization is the next step,” he said. “Right now, if you want to move something from a private cloud to an external cloud, you can’t really do it. This includes more standard pricing and improved interoperability.”

“We’re pushing more vendors to work the way customers want to,” according to Mark Relph, vice-president of development and platform with Microsoft Canada, who said that Microsoft has been working on more standardization in the cloud area, including the Web Services Standard.

Right now, the field is divided between pure-play vendors, software-as-a-service vendors, and big companies that offer cloud-based computing as an offering in their portfolio. “The cloud is like those big stickers you see slapped on things at the supermarket,” said Sloan. “Everything is ‘now with cloud!’”

A lot of the industry is in a sort of “land rush” for the cloud, he said, wanting to either set up shop for when the industry really takes off, or strike out on their own to offer services in the fledgling industry. And, said Sloan, the cost of entry is much lower, allowing for a greater population of enterprising SMBs in the space.

Once issues of data security and location have been settled, and a vendor chosen, said Staten, it’s important to build solid policies for any cloud-based initiatives, global or not. “You need to get out and start experimenting,” said Staten. “That way, you’ll know where the heavy lifting is and then build policy around that. It needs to be documented so that everyone can use the best practices.”

Microsoft — which recently entered the space with its Azure offering — is aware of the growing need for a variety of solutions. “There’s on-premise and then there’s in the cloud, but our customers say it’s not that binary, especially now with the economy and the pressures on IT,” said Relph.

This way, Staten said, IT managers won’t stumble into any unnecessary costs. “Many people see the cloud as a way to lower costs, but you have to do it right. If you don’t actually know what the costs are, it can actually turn out to be more expensive.”

One way to get a good idea of what type of implementation would be a good fit would be to take a baseline of current costs, said Staten. For example, if the data is more often in a persistent state, then it’s best to get a pricing plan that fits that pattern, he said. It would be a waste of money to pay for a more variable “spiky” plan when there isn’t much change in usage patterns.

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