Cloud computing has long been heralded as an IT revolution, on the verge of delivering a cheap and flexible solution for the workplace. However, despite promises of huge gains in efficiency and flexibility, cloud computing has not convinced everyone. 4C brought together a selection of professionals from various industries to determine whether it is revolutionary or simply a rehash of old ideas.
Andy Langley, Director at ntegra Ltd, argued that cloud computing is the equivalent of an IT revolution, whereas Rob Lees, Managing Partner at 4C Associates, debated that it is simply a repackaging of old ideas by tech companies looking to turn a profit.
A Rebranding of Old Ideas with a New Price Tag
Cloud computing is nothing new and is simply a cynical attempt by IT corporations to take your company’s money. The concept of a large, cheap offsite storage solution dates back to the mainframes of the 1960s, when it was referred to as a “bureau”. It is, by comparison, a needlessly complex, unsafe solution which requires a constant flow of purchases to be kept in working order.
“Keeping private data in the cloud can be risky, in some cases it amounts to keeping your old newspapers looked up in a safe and your jewellery lying in a car park”
Another issue is that the companies selling cloud based solutions do not seem to have a properly planned long term strategy. Few vendors have publicly announced future plans for their cloud based computing solutions. One of the rare companies which has made this information available, SAP, did so via a leaked e-mail, which does little to raise confidence. In addition several vendors, including Microsoft, have put their work in this area on hold for the moment.
The best way to visualise what it has done for IT departments across the globe is to examine how little the situation has changed since the advent of cloud computing. Vast development costs, data stored in large data centres, slow development times and large profits for IT companies are all still very much part of the IT landscape.
It is simply a trend and the core values which guided IT system purchasing are truer now than ever before. Companies need to work out exactly what they need and who can most effectively deliver it. Requirements for IT systems must be rigorous and flexible and take into account all aspects of end user experiences, from the CFO to the operator.
“Cloud solutions are designed to allow vendors to charge many times over”
These requirements must be documented and negotiated and this must be done with the required level of staff involvement. No payment for errors is also essential for the delivery of an effective IT system: if the solution does not perform there is no reason the company should pay, or pay again to have it put right. When it comes to cloud, businesses need to look beyond the hype and ensure vendors provide what they need at the right price.
An IT Revolution
It is a very broad term and the element which is truly revolutionary is the ability to leverage and scale services from anywhere. A parallel can be drawn between banking outlets in the past, which consisted in a bank manager equipped with a safe and a set of accounts, and the modern bank which encompasses many services such as mortgages, insurance policies, express transfers which can be enabled dynamically and provided from anywhere in the world. The physical, bricks and mortar bank is now just a simple, user driven interface to help consume these services. In much the same way as banking outlets have changed, cloud solutions provide the flexibility for IT departments to deliver computing power in a dynamic and cost effective way.
“You need to distinguish between cloud and Web2.0”
What cloud does is allow access to phenomenal processing power. Examples of companies effectively harvesting this resource include charities such as Children in Need. During the charity’s annual appeal there is a need to scale out to several thousand web servers in order to process donations. Without cloud this would be near impossible.
It is not a solution to all IT issues but rather an amazingly powerful and cost effective tool. It has provided a self-provisioned, flexible means for companies to carry out complex data tasks without the need for capital expenses.
Much of the criticism around cloud is due to companies marketing the solution as the answer to all IT ills. This it is not. However, properly employed, cloud has the potential to revolutionise the industry.
The key question raised by the floor was “is cloud cheaper?” Langley replied that cloud could be cost effective, however, for large corporations with their own data centres it may not represent the best solution. Lees pointed out that while cloud computing may provide an attractive, one size fits all solution for SMEs, most large corporations consider themselves unique and will not settle for a universal approach.
The floor voiced their concerns regarding the security of data in the cloud. Langley replied that risks can be mitigated in much the same way as with internal data centres and that the main difference is having an additional conversation with a separate entity. One participant was not satisfied with this answer and said the best indication that security was an issue was a lack of FTSE 100 companies storing data in the cloud.
The banking and insurance sectors were singled out as two major areas yet to adopt cloud solutions. The floor asked if this was due to vendors not being equipped to deal with these highly regulated sectors. Langley explained that the operating model behind cloud is for vendors to make money out of what they already have. Complying with the heavy regulations in these sectors renders the implementation of cloud counterproductive at present.
When called upon to declare a winner, the floor voted in favour of “Cloud Computing: An IT Revolution”.