Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cloudy Skies This Week

Recent blog posts and comments I made on Twitter might give some people the impression that I'm against cloud computing. I bet I've given some people the impression that I hate cloud computing. Despise it! Want to see it die! Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the idea of cloud computing. It's the cloud computing marketing that I take issue with.

Overall, what's not to like about the cloud idea? The promise of cloud computing (notice I say promise, not reality) is the ability to only buy what you need with the option to buy more later if you want to. In that respect, it deals with one of the key problems in computing: coarse granularity in systems. If I need 10 percent of a server, I might have to buy a whole server. Someday I might need that whole server but not right at the moment. Then again, maybe never. We have wonderful terms for buying more than you need such as underutilization. The best term is “a waste of money”. So, buying only what I need when I need it is a great way to manage my budget. Same goes for software. I no longer have to buy a software package designed for fifty people for just three people to use. It's efficient and cost effective. It also makes it easier to quantify the cost of running an application.

Cloud computing is also evolution not revolution. We have been doing limited purpose cloud computing for years. It's called web hosting. And email hosting. Oh. And application hosting. Do I notice when my hosting provider adds new resources in order to add more customers. Not really. I pay ten bucks and get a chunk of resources adequate to running my simple web site and that's how I like it.

So what's not to like? Well a couple of things really. Security of a cloud is no better than security in a non-cloud data center. You still have the problems of internal espionage, external break-ins, and other Dick Tracy stuff.

There is also a migration problem. When the day comes that your application needs to move to a dedicated system (don't kid yourself – it will happen), you might have a heck of a time moving it. Unlike moving up to a bigger piece of iron, applications may have to be rebuilt to live in a different type of environment. In that way, I suppose, it is different. It's worse... and nobody wants that.

This is especially true of clouds built around service frameworks like Amazon's. At some point the application might get big enough that it makes sense to bring it in house. Worse yet, you could find yourself dissatisfied with the service provider (like that never happens!) and forced into an acrimonious divorce. This is an especially nasty problem because they have you by the data stores if you get my meaning.

These are not reasons to forgo the cloud. They are reasons to be careful. Figure these issues out ahead of time and make good choices up front. And ignore the hype. If someone slaps “cloud” on something that seems not so cloudy, be suspicious.

Remember, cloud computing is a strategy and maybe an architecture. It's not a product no matter how many times the corporate talking head says so.

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