As an executive, you may be hearing many different viewpoints about Cloud Computing; some of them promising significant IT cost reductions and reductions in capital expenditures. Similarly, you are hearing about the potential downsides of Cloud Computing, such as unexpected outages impairing your ability to operate or increased opportunity for data leakage and privacy and confidentiality breaches. Hence, I’ve put together this quick primer to provide busy executives with a non-vendor-oriented view of Cloud Computing realities.
Don’t get caught off guard regarding all the technical complexities of developing and offering Cloud Computing services, the whole reason you’re considering this option is so others will take care of these factors for you. Although you still need to be an educated consumer, you don’t need to be in the weeds to ensure you’re not caught with your pants around your ankles if you decide to use Cloud Computing services.
With regard to Cloud Computing, you will either be renting an application, renting IT infrastructure or completely outsourcing a business function. You will see these referred to by a number of different names, such as Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, etc., again, for you, if you’re trying to understand the differences between these you are too deep in the weeds. Of note, when we say IT infrastructure, we are including network connectivity, electricity, cooling, power backup, etc., not just a CPU, memory and storage, so you need to incorporate those attributes into any financial comparisons.
- Are you considering the Cloud for non-mission-critical capabilities? If so, then most Cloud Computing vendors will meet your needs without great concern. Your biggest concern should be ownership of your data, which has multiple components. One component is ownership in the eyes of the government. There are rules the government has to follow to gain access to your data when it’s stored on your premises, however, those rules have yet to be qualified if they extend to your Cloud service provider. The other aspect of ownership that has arisen with regard to Cloud Computing regards who owns the physical data representation you or your Cloud provider. While the answer should be dead-brained simple, the realities of this is unclear. Other things to be concerned about include extended outages that limit access to your data and the applications used to access that data and hidden costs for attempting to perform batch operations on your own data or incorrect charges if billing is based on usage.
- If you are seeking to use the Cloud for mission-critical capabilities, will the Cloud vendor sign a service-level agreement that includes an option for non-performance financial penalties? To me, this is the dividing line for the role of Cloud Computing in IT. One of the advantages of Cloud Computing for a service provider is to take advantage of volume and economies of scale. If onboarding new customers results in legal agreements and the potential for financial penalties, its going to be difficult for them to offer their services at a reasonable price point. Hence, finding a Cloud Computing vendor that is going to provide you the assurances you need for a mission-critical application may be difficult.
- Maintaining privacy and confidentiality is your responsibility. There’s a lot of discussion and speculation regarding Cloud security. The truth is Cloud vendors will most likely hire more highly-skilled cybersecurity experts than you will. Also, there’s a strong likelihood, based on statistics, that your network and systems are already compromised in some manner. So, the reality of the situation is the Cloud will not introduce a greater risk regarding confidentiality and privacy breaches and may offer a more secure environment than you can on your own. Moreover, it doesn’t matter if the breach happens in the Cloud or on your own premises, the repercussions will be the same to your business.
The private Cloud option is a way for vendors to take advantage of the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the Cloud and sell the same wares they are selling to Cloud Computing service providers to you. As an executive, this is a real simple one for you; ask the question of your management team, “Were we already seeking to improve utilization of our existing data center investments regardless of the emergence of Cloud Computing?” If the answer is no, then when those private Cloud vendors show up at your doorstep, hold up your palm facing them and say, “talk to the hand!” If the answer is yes, then by all means, advancements in virtualization, storage and blade technology will provide you greater utilization of compute resources at a lower cost and, usually, lower energy consumption. However, take note, this change requires new skills, which equates to training and hiring of appropriate resources to manage this configuration. It also means that there is a greater likelihood for improper configuration, which can lead to outages that take longer to fix and make it easier to compromise.
That’s it! Simple, easy-to-understand and written to help the busy executive gain a handle on the key decisions regarding Cloud Computing without having to wade through all the technical, legal and financial details that are being bandied about on the Web.