TORONTO – Data portability, lack of trust and privacy issues are just some of the barriers to wider enterprise adoption of virtually hosted hardware and software, experts told Canada’s first Cloud Computing Conference on Wednesday.
While the hype around cloud computing may have been tempered somewhat by the worldwide recession, one of the bigger challenges may begin among technology professionals themselves, said Reuven Cohen, founder of Toronto-based Enomoly. Part of this comes from a lack of clarity around what cloud computing actually is, he said, but there is also a wariness around putting mission-critical data in a service provider’s hands.
“On the one hand there are these legacy IT department guys who want control,” Cohen said. “On the other hand you have these business units who want more flexibility to be able to rapidly deploy these applications.”
Cohen, who also helped start the Cloud Interoperability Forum, said there are concerns among potential early adopters about the difficulty in extricating themselves from a cloud provider, and particularly in moving data from one provider to another. No real standards exist in this area yet, which adds to the pressure on providers to create a sense of security among their customers.
“People ask, am I going to trust a bookseller with my IT infrastructure,” he said, referring to online retailer Amazon, which offers the EC2 and S3 cloud computing services. “That’s one of the bigger questions that’s being asked.”
Cloud computing can offer companies the ability to offload some data centre tasks and save money, but many firms are more focused on uptime, according to Darius Antia, CTO of Toronto-based Web hosting firm Netfirms. Antia’s clients include ultimate fighter Georges “The Rush” St. Pierre, whose Web site chronicles the results of his matches.
“Normally the site may not get a lot of traffic,” Antia explained, “but immediately following a fight there is usually a considerable spike.” This is where the effective use of hosting resources allows for more compute flexibility to meet demands, Antia said.
Antia said he doesn’t necessarily refer to Netfirms as a cloud computing provider, but that Web hosting, at least among smaller businesses, may provide the kind of offering that most customers need. “Georges St. Pierre, he doesn’t care if it’s called cloud computing. He just wants his Web site to be available,” Antia said, adding that probably only one per cent of users really benefit from the kind of availability that hosted cloud computing can provide.
A few audience members at the Cloud Computing Conference raised questions around privacy and regulatory compliance, and legislation like the U.S. Patriot Act is generating serious questions about how cloud-based data is managed. Ken Anderson, assistant commissioner (privacy) at the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario’s office, said effective cloud computing must allow “informational self-determination.” In other words, users should have control over their personal profile and other information.
“People talk about cloud computing and they say, ‘Oh, you must hate this.’ Au contraire,” said Anderson, adding there might be situations where cloud-based applications can better protect privacy than traditional on-premise solutions. Any cloud service, however, should allow federated identity, the ability to use pseudonyms and multiple identities. And single sign-on is a must.
“There are too many times when we have to re-identify ourselves each time we a cloud service,” he said. “That just leaves a huge trail of information that could be exposed.”
The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario’s office has already published a booklet on cloud computing and is convening with working groups dealing with related issues like security and standards.
The one-day Cloud Computing Conference, which was produced in association with IT World Canada, wrapped up Wednesday.