The Cloud: More Than Just Dollars and Cents

December 28, 2010 Off By David
Grazed from IT Business Edge.  Author: Arthur Cole.

The waning days of December have brought out the usual raft of year-end reviews coupled with year-ahead predictions, and it’s no surprise that the current crop of enterprise-related round-ups focuses primarily on the cloud.

As the most significant shift in data infrastructure since, well, the creation of data infrastructure, the cloud is seen as both inevitable and far-reaching in its potential to radically reshape the entire IT industry. But mixed in with all this enthusiasm, a bit of caution: For every predictable outcome from the cloud there will be multiple unpredictable ones.

For some, the simple economics behind cloud computing is enough to foretell its imminent rise to data center dominance. Quest Software’s Dmitry Sotnikov ran some numbers recently to show that the most popular cloud services are bargains just based on the energy needed to run a typical in-house server, and that’s before you add cooling, maintenance, security, backup and a host of other costs. Unless you’re preparing to offer that server to someone else as a hosted solution, there’s no way it can even come close to competing with the cloud on cost. That’s probably why service providers are looking at upwards of $44 billion in revenues over the next two years, according to Cisco, as the cloud takes over desktop, e-mail, collaboration and enterprise resource applications.

This would make it a slam dunk for the cloud except for one thing: Cost alone will not be the sole determining factor in the adoption of new cloud services. As EMC’s David Morris and James Shook point out, discovery, compliance and other legal issues will confound many cloud deployments. As resources become globalized, exactly whose laws will apply to what data sets? And will law enforcement authorities be able to keep up with dynamic storage environments in which critical data could be whisked from one set of resources to another in the blink of an eye? And if enterprises are tasked with ensuring the sanctity and access to data at all times, will that drive up the cost of not only the cloud but the hardware and software infrastructure needed to support it?

The cloud also adds a new wrinkle to backup and management programs, even as it solves old ones, says F5’s Lori MacVittie. In the old days, so-called "lights out" management could be tied directly to a physical machine, quickly getting it up and running in the event of a significant failure. But with the abstraction of both virtualization and the cloud, virtual machines can quickly be reprovisioned, but you give up any hope of identifying the problem because the environment is rebooted from scratch. So if you need access to functions like network booting, boot order control, kernel options and the like, you’re out of luck in the cloud.

But as I said, the cloud has taken on an aura of inevitability, meaning the technology will probably find a comfortable niche between the desire to lower costs and the desire to maintain control. Problems within cloud environments will most likely be managed the same way as in physical and newly virtual environments: through trial, error and yet more trial.

And in the end, the cloud will succeed or fail based on its ability to provide a comprehensive solution for the enterprise, not just a technical or financial one.