Cloud computing. The concept has been around for a long time. Part of the reason the Internet was created was to make resources in the scientific and academic community more accessible when not economically feasible to replicate. This sharing of computing horsepower many years ago is not much different from the concepts that are floating around now. We have huge data centers storing large amounts of data, centralized eCommerce sites designed to stamp out storefronts by the thousands for businesses of all sizes, and processing centers designed to offload application processing into machines designed to handle the workload.
The big difference between then and now is the community of users that can access the playing field, the workload being pushed onto the Internet and, most importantly, the type of data that is being trusted to the collective cloud. There are a couple of questions that linger in my mind about the viability of these services and the impact that they will have on the computing landscape.
We are seeing massive accumulations of data with sites like Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft that are vying for market control of your data. These companies are investing huge amounts of money into the initiative called cloud computing. Microsoft announced late last year that its office suite, Office 365, will provide companies the ability to rent software on a monthly basis. Facebook is working with cloud provider, Heroku, to provide software developers with a way to host their own games. Amazon provides services to businesses that allow them to host store fronts in addition to renting computing power on their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Google is well known for its use of cloud computing to host huge amounts of search data, email information, geographical data and imagery covering most of the world.
Let's get straight to the point. Some cloud implementations carry a great amount of risk. Promises are made about security and accessibility, but what about responsibility when things go wrong? We saw some serious fallout when Amazon's hosting service went down because a misconfiguration of a network appliance sent data in the wrong direction, effectively taking businesses offline for an extended period of time. Sony experienced a data breach of its environment that in the end saw more than 100 million user accounts compromised and Sony had to take its Online Entertainment network offline (as in not online) for several weeks while they sorted through the issue.
Backup solution providers and social networking sites are very concerning to me because of the sensitive nature of the data that is being handed over to them. Based on the growth of these industries, it seems that people are more than willing to release control of their personal or corporate information, in many cases not understanding the risks involved in doing so.
OK, so enough doom and gloom. I am not putting out there that cloud computing is bad. In fact, it is very relevant and needed. While I am not so keen to hand over my data and identity to a centralized entity outside my boundaries, I do see a huge benefit of having a corporate cloud for use within enterprises. The use of cloud methodologies can help provide a level of flexibility that could not otherwise be realized.
Corporations actually have been using the idea of a cloud for quite some time and have been very successful at it. Think about the corporate file system that is accessible anywhere within a company. How about the centralized event calendars or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems?
One of the cool things that was done in EnterpriseIQ, the manufacturing ERP software solution from IQMS, was to offload some of the more complex processing of data from client machines to the primary Oracle server. This cloud shift happened before the concept of cloud technology really was anything more than a dense fog. This provided some significant performance enhancements in the system. Another very cool technology that is being developed is the use of WebServices. This technology will allow mobile devices to access the EnterpriseIQ system at a level that would not normally be available because of the traditionally lower capabilities of the devices. This truly puts the capabilities of the system into a cloud environment within the corporation.
Yet another technology involves process monitoring and data gathering for statistical analysis of just about any kind of data that can be captured. Something to note is that these services are completely self contained and do not rely on other providers or intermediaries. This allows the deploying corporation to assess the requirements of its hardware needs and create itsr own security protocols identifying what data can be exposed and how, in addition to developing contingency plans in the event of a centralized failure. None of this would be possible if all the cloud functionality existed outside the corporation.
There is a lot of exciting new technology being released, designed and dreamt of. How we use that technology will change the way we fundamentally function both at home and at work. My concern is that as we move forward, we stay aware of the benefits and risks that exist within the system. Too much data in one cloud can be problem. How that data is protected is critical. But ultimately, the bigger issue comes down to how we react when that cloud we depend on is not available. How these issues are handled will determine whether or not the technology will float or fizzle.
Is the concept of cloud computing a storm cloud or a cloud with a silver lining? I am really interested in getting some input and opinions regarding cloud computing and the uses or issues you see. Please comment.