Today, Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb posted the question, “Do you trust the cloud?” to FriendFeed and wrote about her findings in the article “In Cloud We Trust?” The problem is, I believe the question itself was too vague. But this “finger to the air to test the wind direction” did spark quite a bit of discussion and further made me realize that the public in general doesn’t fully yet understand the full spectrum of Cloud Computing (and this was even within a social media/tech-savvy audience).
As is evident from the 90+ comments that popped up within 18 hours of posting the question, people have a lot to say about the subject. The important thing to consider here is the lack of granularity of the question and the range of responses. To really ask and analyze the question better, one must fine-tune it more to the detailed components of what makes up Cloud Computing, namely: Cloud Applications, Cloud Platforms, Cloud Aggregators, Cloud Extenders and Cloud Infrastructure. My guess is, most people responding to the question don’t truly understand the differences between these layers in the Cloud. Perhaps better, more focused questions would have been:
- “Do you trust Cloud Applications like Flickr, Facebook and Gmail?”
- “Do you trust Google or others with your critical data?”
- “Do you see yourself using the Cloud as your primary or ancillary IT strategy?”
It seemed to me that the common thread within the FriendFeed responses was that of FUD: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The question itself is phrased with an inherent FUD factor which can quickly skew the resulting answers. However, I do think that this question is important from a consumer standpoint, that of the everyday user of Gmail or Evernote or DropBox, for example. The biggest commonality that I saw from reading through all of the comments was that of “backups.” My read is that people are concerned that their data will be lost in some way, either by a company pulling the plug or a hard-drive crashing or just not being able to physically “touch” it.
From a consumer standpoint, this article is appropriate. As the amount of data that consumers produce in the form of emails or photos for example, continues to grow almost exponentially, they are realizing that storing this un-replaceable data in a single location is risky. Many back up this priceless data on external hard-drives or CDs/DVDs. Some seem to be venturing to the “Cloud” as a secondary redundancy, by using Cloud Storage to solve this.
There is a sliding scale at work here with consumers only starting to adopt the significantly easier side of Cloud Computing, namely Cloud Applications. Consumers have been using Cloud Applications longer than they actual realize: Gmail, Flickr, and Online Banking being some everyday examples. When you think about it, Google has been in the Cloud for some time, even before the term “Cloud Computing” was coined with their various services: Google Docs, Gmail, Picasa, and Google Notebook. Consumers are now venturing into new waters with their use of Cloud Storage and Synchronization solutions like: Microsoft’s Live Mesh, DropBox, and even Amazon’s S3.
The middle of the scale (or of the Cloud Pyramid pictured previously) is that of Cloud Platforms. Here we have a blend of both consumer and corporate adoption. Two examples of these that both consumers and business are aware of are SalesForce and Facebook. Everybody has heard of Facebook, right? They are one of the consumer leaders in the Cloud Application segment. The only way they have become so “successful” is with their Cloud Platform offering. With a little bit of programming knowledge and some information on their “proprietary” platform, developers can quickly create applications that run within the Facebook framework. Similarly, many business users know and use SalesForce (another prime example of a Cloud Application). They, too, have a Cloud Platform service called Force.com. Businesses can integrate their applications and service offerings into the SalesForce.com framework using Force.com.
On the other end of the scale are the complex and robust Cloud Infrastructure solutions offered by GoGrid (as a “cloudcenter“) and Amazon’s Web Services (as “Infrastructure Web Services”). Most consumers have not given this part of the Cloud much thought since it typically doesn’t affect their daily lives unless so directed by their work. However, Enterprise, SMBs and even Startups are seeing the increased value in tapping into ability to harness raw compute power and on-demand “disposable” IT infrastructures.
But to get back to the theme of the ReadWriteWeb article, the spin is still very consumer-oriented with little focus on business. Sarah does bring up some good points:
“For many, the cloud is no more trustworthy, than a hard drive on their own machine.”
“Companies need to show us more stability and security…”
“At the end of the day, just labeling services as “cloud computing” applications isn’t enough to change people’s mindsets about what it means to really move to the cloud.”
I agree whole-heartedly with the third statement above. Just because something is has the “cloud” moniker does not mean that it will be the end-all solution. Those of us within the Cloud Computing industry need to prove the worth of this shift, whether it be from dramatic cost savings to ease-of-use to the on-demand nature of the Cloud.
But I would like to offer some points that came out of my reading and interpretation that can be applied across the board, regardless if you are a Cloud-using or Traditional-IT Consumer or Business:
- Understand what IT solution you are choosing – do research, ask questions of the provider, ask end users, read industry publications & become an “expert”
- Individual experiences vary – Just because something works (or doesn’t work) for someone else, doesn’t mean that it will (or won’t) for you
- “Trust” is extremely subjective – people felt the same way about eCommerce and online banking – that trust level seems to have increased over time through mainstream adoption; the same will happen with Cloud Computing
- Backups are critical – be sure that you employ a multi-tiered and redundant backup strategy that works for you. For example, at GoGrid, we offer the ability to use a Cloud front-end (for web applications) and multiple solutions for data storage (persistent storage on all Cloud web servers, Cloud Storage and Cloud Connect to enable private dedicated connections to traditional managed, hosted hardware). However, with any solution you choose, ensure that you have a strategy that is multi-provider.
- Don’t just “port” to the Cloud – if you are doing your own hosting, chances are that you have over-purchased your IT and much of it is under-utilized. If you decide to move to the Cloud, don’t just mirror your current environment as you will inherit the inefficiencies that you currently have. Look to optimize your resources and program in dynamic scalability.
- Test your new IT Infrastructure Solution – if you can, experiment with any new IT technology before you fully deploy it! Obviously, this is much more expensive and difficult to do if you need to do this on bare-metal servers or other IT hardware. The Cloud, however, lets you really “try before you buy.” (Hint: talk to a GoGrid Sales Rep and they give double the initial free trial credit you get.)
Just a quick note to the media, when you ask a question, know that you may be working in a bubble. I often forget that I’m in a very tech-heavy industry. I frequently “converse” with a very vocal and extremely niche-oriented crowd. Consumers have a right to “fear” what they don’t know or understand and will do so naturally. While I do think that the trust-factor of the Cloud as presented by this article and the leading question is a bit troublesome for me, I also know that the concerns that users have are valid and must be listened to. I commend Sarah for her use of Social Networking to quickly get a pulse. I am also encouraged that the “awareness campaign” will bring more disclosure and transparency to the Cloud industry, but I also want to be sure that there is an accuracy in reporting when media outlets discuss only the pitfalls of a particular technology without carefully presenting all sides of the story..
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