Is cloud computing a natural progression of the outsourcing trend?
Cloud computing has similarities to the current trend for outsourcing, and is a natural progression of the outsourcing trend. Resources are being offloaded by a company to a third party. A company that is able to outsource its IT needs should consider cloud computing because in such cases, business requirements can operate distinct from IT.
Will cloud computing have the same challenges that outsourcing continues to face today? Let’s look at an example. When Dell outsourced its call centre to India, it was a cost-cutting success. However, the company quickly found that customer satisfaction and loyalty declined quarter after quarter. It was clear that outsourcing will have a lower chance of success if business process requirements are too closely dependent on the operations of the resource being outsourced. With cloud computing, 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.
How quickly could (or should) such a shift take place?
Organizations have had cloud computing solutions available for many years already. Sales force automation and CRM and some of the complex tools that have been around. I would argue that IT should not be greeting cloud computing as a ‘shift,’ but rather another solution option available.
There are already a number of out-of-the-box solutions that are competing with cloud computing, by employing the same architecture. Virtualization is one of such solutions. VMWare is a leader in this area. As such, organizations might consider internal virtualization infrastructures that allow them to maintain control of an IT staff, and consequently control of its infrastructure. This is especially appealing when the business logic and process flow is too closely intertwined with IT. Microsoft is also aware of the threat of cloud computing, so much so that the upcoming Windows 2008 Server will support virtualization.
What will it mean for the traditional IT professional? What kind of security, reliability or other challenges must cloud providers overcome before this kind of service is predominant? Will Google become the Microsoft of the cloud computing universe?
A couple of years ago, I gave Google applications a try. There was buzz back then that Microsoft office applications were going to be threatened by cloud computing applications. After the novelty for editing a word or spreadsheet document online, and saving online, wore off, the big question that came to mind was: without access to the Internet (after all, Internet uptime isn’t 100%), how can documents be accessed, let alone edited? Fast forward to today. Google is building offline tools that will enable a user to still make changes to documents. What about document collaboration, writing macros, or linking content among applications (embedding a spreadsheet in a Word doc)? What about security? If my email account is hacked, a user will have access to all my online files.
In my opinion, cloud computing will appeal to companies whose business processes are not fully dependent on customized IT solutions. Companies will have to evaluate security risks and measure networking uptime and accessibility costs. Only then will IT staff need to retire their programming certifications and to upgrade to network ones.