Cloud Computing Dreams Crash into Reality

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

The computing utopia often described by cloud marketers was exposed as largely a mirage by a roundtable of partners, customers and experts at the Cisco Live event in Las Vegas. Here's what they said.

The promised benefits of cloud computing may be huge from easy collaboration to big cost savings, but relying on the cloud for computing presents its own set of problems. That’s according to partners, customers and experts at a Cisco Live roundtable which shattered a few myths and highlighted some key problems that need to be solved.

Licensing issues, security problems, unrealized cost savings and unreliable infrastructures are among some of the problems that partners and customers are facing.

Lew Tucker, CTO and vice president of cloud computing at Cisco Systems, kicked off the discussion by asking "is the enterprise ready for the cloud?" There didn’t seem to be a good answer, with the comments running somewhere on the fence. Some enterprises are absolutely ready for the cloud, some have tried it and been disappointed, and others are merely looking at it as a long-term applications delivery model that they’ll eventually want to use.

"We’re seeing all sorts of customers along the path," said Joe Crawford, the cloud infrastructure group lead at Verizon.

In some cases, customers are already seeing beyond the cloud hype and tailoring their computing not towards the cloud model but towards an applications delivery model. It’s a minor – but important – difference. He noted that he has one customer that doesn’t have a cloud strategy; instead, the customer has an applications strategy and has chosen to use cloud as its tool to bring that strategy to life.

One of the most common perceptions about the cloud computing model is that it’ll save businesses of all sizes bundles of money, but Lawrence McNutt, CTO and owner of SOS (the lone systems integrator on the panel), shattered that myth when he said it can actually be more costly to businesses if they’re not careful.

As a systems integrator that provides SaaS offerings to its customers, SOS (http://www.team-sos.com/) is a Loomis, Calif.-based Cisco channel partner. McNutt said that the SaaS delivery model makes financial sense for some businesses and not for others. In fact, McNutt said he fields questions from clients about the cost-effectiveness of cloud all the time, and he can’t provide an affirmative answer in a lot of cases.

"When it boils right down to dollars and cents, it’s not consistently more cost-effective," McNutt said.

A key problem is that many businesses thinking moving to the cloud is as easy as flipping a switch. Voila! Instant cost savings. It’s never that simple, but vendors and partners constantly have to combat that perception.

"Often we hear that people want to move to the cloud because it’s more cost-effective. That’s their primary driver," said Wyatt Starnes, CTO and vice president for advanced technologies at Harris Corp. However, if a business hasn’t made the necessary transitions with its people and processes within its corporate environment first, then it’s probably not going to be more cost-effective to use the cloud. It’s more effective once the people and processes have been prepared for the shift in the applications delivery model. That doesn’t happen overnight, Starnes said.

Businesses also have to have taken the first couple of steps towards virtualization for it to work, Tucker added.

Security is frequently cited as another hurdle, but vendor executives have often commented that because of where and how the data is being stored, the cloud is actually more secure than on-premise means. That hasn’t changed the perception of the public cloud, of course, especially considering the number of high-profile online data breaches that have hit the headlines.

Businesses are looking for three key things when it comes to the delivery of the applications that run their business – performance, availability and security. Many potential customers are not yet satisfied they have the answers they’re looking for when it comes to any of those three, but security is still a top concern because of the costly nature (in dollars from existing customers and in potential loss of future customers).

Similar to the dot-com boom, new businesses that want to cash in on the cloud computing trend are popping up every day, but McNutt said that doesn’t mean they’re doing their due diligence when it comes to secure, reliability, performance or availability. In many cases, actually, the opposite is true. Businesses trust their data to cloud providers of all types, but it can be disastrous

"I’ve seen a lot of catastrophic deployments where they just didn’t have the infrastructure to justify that trust," McNutt said.

According to McNutt, the vast majority of companies that have opened their doors as cloud providers don’t have the rigorous infrastructure and support structure in place to have earned the trust their customers are giving them.

"The vast majority of my cloud clients came from another provider," McNutt said.

Many cloud service providers are also stuck in their ways with the way they think about their software licensing models. This is a serious problem because old licensing models don’t fit well with the cloud. As they transition to newer billing models, there is a great amount of confusion because there are so many different models.

"I think there’s a lot of licensing issues that still remain," Starnes said.

Legacy software companies are slow in determining their cloud pricing or they’re stalling so they can get their own cloud services in place, Starnes said.

There are clearly several challenges to overcome in the growing cloud computing market, but if historical IT trends are any indication, eventually these challenges will be overcome and standards will fall into place.