Are These Really Mysteries? Solving Forbes’ “7 Great Unsolved Mysteries of Cloud Computing”

February 6th, 2013 by - 3,030 views

From time to time, I come across an article that I feel compelled to respond to. Yesterday, I read “7 Great Unsolved Mysteries of Cloud Computing” written by Joe McKendrick (an author and independent researcher covering IT trends and markets) in Forbes.com. Although McKendrick definitely offers some thought-provoking questions in the form of “cloud mysteries,” part of me feels these mysteries were already solved a long time ago.

Forbes-article

What follows are the questions that McKendrick asks, my interpretation of his descriptions, and my responses to these mysteries. I’d love to hear your feedback on these mysteries and my responses, so be sure to leave a comment.

7 Great “Unsolved” Mysteries of Cloud Computing

McKendrick alludes to the 2010s as a “cloud computing migration.” A “migration” connotes a feeling of evolution, and I do believe that cloud computing is evolving through a natural progression (see “Riding the Gartner Hype Cycle Roller Coaster: Hang on to your Magic Quadrants!”) toward mainstream adoption.

But let’s take a look at the “unsolved” mysteries.

1) Who really pays for cloud?
Synopsis
: Payment is “all over the place” from IT departments to corporate credit cards and costs are hidden or buried within corporate budgets, resulting in jeopardized subscriptions.

My response: Yes, credit cards are the primary method for the payment of cloud services; however, this is a good way to manage cloud subscriptions due to the dynamic nature of cloud computing. Cloud usage, by definition, is variable but can also be quite predictable assuming you regularly analyze your company’s infrastructure usage, traffic patterns and product rollouts. Once you determine this usage pattern, you can better predict your spend (hourly, monthly, semi-annually, or annually). This is a very different model than purchasing physical hardware (CapEx), configuring and managing it (OpEx), and depreciating it over time. These tasks hit various departmental budgets. The cloud simplifies this situation by providing a unified OpEx as well as trackable expenses. Cloud computing is all about subscription models that were adopted a long time ago and smart businesses have been learning how to track this cost appropriately. Not a mystery.

2) Is cloud really cheaper in the long run?
Synopsis
: Lots of evidence says no when you compare it to on-prem equipment over 5 years and companies that pay cloud subscription fees without actual ownership.

My response: With on-premises equipment, you’re paying a hefty price for under- or non-utilization as well as maintenance, support, power, cooling, security, and other “hidden” costs. GoGrid provided managed hosting for many years prior to our shift to cloud infrastructure hosting. We saw a huge number of under-utilized servers consuming resources, capacity, and physical space while they were idle. As with any technology purchase, physical servers are instantly outdated and require hefty maintenance plans to keep them running. Over 5 years, your costs for on-prem equipment can far outweigh a similar cloud environment that is managed properly and scaled based on demand. A while back, we did a TCO comparison between a hosted private cloud and an equivalent on-premises solution. It’s true that a badly managed cloud implementation could potentially cost more than a well-managed on-prem solution, but companies are learning how to control cloud deployments to optimize both compute and budget efficiencies. A partial mystery only if done wrong.

3) Is it sustainable for vendors to cannibalize their own business to get into the cloud?
Synopsis: The migration from on-site licenses to monthly subscription fees hurts but it can be rewarding in the end as clients are locked into particular services.

My response: Vendor lock-in is a phrase often kicked around as a potential negative of cloud computing. As an infrastructure provider, however, you don’t necessarily have to lock in your customers. GoGrid transformed from a service-heavy, managed hosting company to an automated, self-service model that produced incredible internal efficiencies, lower costs, and better margins–all while providing a more compelling infrastructure offering for our clients. Moving from physical to virtual environments allowed our customers more flexibility in their infrastructure deployment choices, dramatically reducing lock-in. Of course, this perspective is that of a vendor offering cloud infrastructure as a service. No mystery here with GoGrid; with other providers it may be more mysterious.

4) Is cloud computing a step backwards in the openness movement?
Synopsis
: Standards, protocols, and technologies have been developed to be interchangeable for on-premises solutions; however, changing cloud providers may present an “ugly scene.”

My response: This openness interpretation really depends on which level of the cloud computing pyramid you’re at. At the SaaS (or even PaaS) level, everything is much more proprietary and you can be locked into using those services. Have you ever tried to migrate from one CRM system to another, for example? Not exactly trivial. What if you want to move from Google App Engine to Microsoft Azure? That will be a tough one. At the IaaS level, however, this openness is a bit more prevalent, but it obviously depends on the IaaS provider and how you architect your infrastructure. We believe that virtual machines should act, feel, and perform like physical ones, which makes understanding HOW they work a bit more comprehendible and less subject to “closed” standards. A mystery for SaaS and possibly PaaS; not a mystery for IaaS, depending on the provider.

5) Who owns the data and intellectual property in cloud?
Synopsis
: Where is data located in the cloud? Who has jurisdiction? How does preservation as evidence and e-discovery work with data stored in the cloud? How long is data retained?

My response: I’m going to leave this question to the legal cloud eagles to fight it out. Cloud providers must be compliant and adhere to legal requirements, both domestic and international. Currently, adherence and compliance really depends on the provider, its transparency, and where it’s located physically. The data is the customer’s though and the controlling environment is the intellectual property of the provider. The two should be distinct, protected, and siloed. But when the legal eagles swoop down, that’s another story altogether. Still a mystery.

6) Is data actually safer in the cloud than on-premises?
Synopsis
: Many cloud proponents and CIOs say that data is safer in the cloud with trained professionals and more so than with your own on-site data center staff.

My response: Cloud providers in general are under much closer scrutiny than internal/on-premises IT staff. Providers work as organizations (a single entity) setting up security standards and protocols. On-site data center staff is typically a collection of individuals or a department that also follows predefined protocols. So how much or how little security typically depends on the organization or department. Because businesses, the media, and analysts are watching each and every move made by cloud providers, however, the sense of urgency and desire to over-perform makes cloud providers a much safer bet in general than less-monitored internal departments. Not a mystery.

7) Are the gigantic cloud data centers energy resource hogs, or are they actually saving natural resources?
Synopsis
: New, massive data centers being built by Google, Apple, Amazon, and others gobble up lots of energy, but are they actually conserving energy in the process?

My response: Virtualization is a technology used by IaaS providers that optimizes energy efficiency. The very nature of programmatically controlling one’s infrastructure to match the peaks and valleys of usage also means that utilization matches needs (if architected properly). A high-end server running virtualization and management software that has multiple virtual servers within it consumes less power and physical space than an equivalent set of physical servers from a compute perspective. Whether all cloud providers are optimizing for energy-efficiency remains to be seen. If orchestrated properly, the cloud is definitely green. A minor mystery.

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Is the cloud still mysterious to you? I’d think that by now, many of these mysteries are actually clear realities. I’m sure you have questions, so please feel free to ask.

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

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