Five big questions about cloud computing

A lot of people scratched their heads over cloud computing this year. Here are the answers to the most persistent questions.

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Recently InfoWorld's David Linthicum examined the flip side of this question: the cloud as an engine of job creation. Notes Linthicum: "This seems to be the largest inflection around a hyped space in IT that I've ever seen, especially considering we've been in a downturn in which many companies have reduced IT jobs."

But where will those IT recruits for cloud service providers come from? Perhaps the biggest faux pas of the 2009 cloud season came from Richard Marcello, president of technology, consulting, and integration solutions at Unisys, who noted that the cloud is a great way to save money by eliminating U.S. jobs and hiring workers in India to run cloud services instead.

5. Does the cloud really enable anything new?

Here's where things get interesting. The reason we chose Google's MapReduce framework as the No. 1 emerging enterprise technology of 2009 is that it enables something completely new: data analysis on a monster scale with commodity hardware.

And as it turns out, the cloud is the perfect place for that kind of one-off, large-scale processing: Upload copies of existing data -- whether a chunk of the data warehouse or gobs of your internal log files -- so you don't need to sweat availability or invest in infrastructure you'll use only once in awhile. No surprise that last April, Amazon added Elastic MapReduce to its roster of cloud services.

And MapReduce isn't the only game in town. Large-scale data processing using columnar databases is an old idea gaining new traction for analytical applications. Standard, SQL-based databases have well-known performance constraints. So why not just upload your SQL data to a specialized processing service in the cloud, have the provider convert it to "NoSQL" format, and run the job in a fraction of the time?

Cloud-based development platforms also provide capabilities difficult to get elsewhere. Salesforce's already offers a rich environment for building multitenanted Web applications. Microsoft's Azure promises to be packed with component services supplied by Microsoft and third parties, more than you could ever afford to provision yourself.

When people talk about cloud services, they usually focus on low-cost solutions to replace mundane, non-critical stuff IT would rather not deal with, like e-mail or dev and test platforms. But the most exciting potential of the cloud is as a platform for Internet-based services that deliver entirely new capabilities fast without the upfront costs. Businesses that latch on to new services with strategic benefit and integrate them into their existing processes and infrastructure will enjoy a big advantage in the coming decade.

This story, "Five big questions about cloud computing," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at

This story, "Five big questions about cloud computing" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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