Friday, July 24, 2009

Cloud Computing and the Reality

Cloud computing is all the hype nowadays. All you hear from vendors, analysts, and consulting companies is that cloud computing will solve all of your IT problems. Here are just a few promises associated with cloud computing:
  • Eliminate your data center
  • Solve all of your scalability and on-demand computing challenges
  • Simplify infrastructure
  • Reduce IT spend
  • Make IT operations more efficient
Are they all true? It’s a possibility. To determine what cloud computing may mean to you, examine how it fits into your IT strategy and the way you deliver technology services to the business. Here are a few things to consider.

First of all, everyone needs to understand what cloud computing really is. According to Wikipedia, “Cloud computing is a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet”. (See Too many people, however, forget that it is only a style and begin to associate cloud computing with specific product offerings such as the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Google Apps, Microsoft Azure, and others. Companies are not limited to just third party solutions. They can implement their own private clouds if they choose.

Secondly, you need to understand the vision behind cloud computing. The idea is simple – to seamlessly provide flexible, on-demand computing resources whenever necessary. This is not a revolutionary development. The Application Service Provider (ASP) model has been in existence for years. Infrastructure outsourcing practices have been utilized a long time before cloud computing became a term. So, what is all the hype then, you ask. They keys are the ubiquitous nature of the protocols used, increased reliability of the Internet, and the packaging of the offering as a generic service. Cloud computing, as a general approach, may support outsourcing of specific applications, generic computing resources or platforms, and software services. It may potentially lead to outsourcing of the whole data center.

Finally, all the pros and cons behind cloud computing need to be considered. Having someone take care of all your computing resources without investing into expensive data centers is an appealing concept but loss of control and unreliable SLAs may be a cause of concern for a number of businesses. Since the Internet is the primary communication mechanism for the public cloud, its reliability and performance need to be questioned whenever considering third party cloud offerings. Private clouds provide better control, reliability, and performance but what is the real difference between those and existing data centers? In my opinion, aside from following a different architectural model of allocating computing resources, nothing. On-demand computing is a great concept but making it work effectively is a tough task. Technologies exist today to dynamically divert unused resources to those applications that need them most. Grid computing, virtualization platforms, and others all provide these capabilities. However, there are limitations. Whenever maximum capacity is reached, hardware needs to be added. No software trick will work to cover this up. Therefore, efficient capacity and pipeline management need to exist to make cloud computing an effective and viable platform.

While there are some cloud computing zealots ( and realists (, many are still cautious about this technology. And for a good reason. In my opinion, cloud computing has proven its worth in a number of situations but it is still not ready for the enterprise. Public clouds are too fickle for really demanding applications. Private clouds have not yet been effectively built. More importantly, however, lack of cloud computing standards and consensus among the key players will present challenges for anyone trying to enter this arena.