Cloud computing: Love it or hate it?

Is cloud computing the next best thing in IT, or is it overhyped and underdelivering? Here's what both sides of the debate have to say.

It seems that IT leaders are warming up to cloud computing, with its promise of elasticity, utility-based billing, multiple storage locations, and the ability to pull data directly from storage devices. In fact, cloud computing ranked second (behind virtualization) as the technology most beta-tested in 2009, according to Computerworld's 2010 Forecast survey of more than 300 IT executives.

But does that mean cloud computing is destined for success? Not so fast, said nearly half of the IT executives polled. They said they are unlikely to try cloud computing this year and ranked it as the No. 1 overhyped and underdelivering technology. What's behind this love-hate relationship? We asked people on both sides of the debate.

Puffing up the cloud

For every naysayer, there's another user who can't get enough of cloud computing's benefits.

Cloud initiatives are high on Jessica Carroll's priority list for 2010 at the United States Golf Association. Last year, the Far Hills, N.J.-based USGA signed on with IBM

"We're able to do online backups nightly into the cloud for our mission-critical data," says Carroll, who is the USGA's managing director for information technologies. "But we were looking for that extra added safety net completely off-site -- at a different location, outside of our environment -- where if we have a disaster, we can go someplace, set up and get our data back."

But the cloud feature that does the most to help Carroll sleep at night is the e-mail continuity component. "E-mail is probably the lifeblood of what we do. Communication and outreach is who we are. If we don't have e-mail, it's a real kink in our business day," she says. "With cloud backup, if we have a situation where our internal systems go down, we can, through the Internet, flip over to our Web-based e-mail system via IBM, using our own e-mail addresses, and the staff barely would even know what happened."

Now Carroll is eager to take cloud computing to the next level. She'd like to reduce the number of servers in the USGA's data center -- it currently has 70 -- and try out cloud-based testing and development.

This year, she will be looking at deploying cloud-based test environments that the USGA would pay a monthly fee to use. "[The providers] are responsible for setting up your environment to your specifications. Can they do that in a faster, more economical way than we can internally? I think the answer is going to be yes," says Carroll. "And if this works for the testing and development environment, do these concepts work for your production environment? I'm anticipating the answer is going to be a mix."

She cautions would-be cloud users to study all contracts and scrutinize the hosting vendor's environment and operating procedures. What is its security policy? What is its disaster recovery plan? Is it willing to share that information with you and put it in a contract?

"This is where I've seen the enterprise-class vendors emerge real strong because they can give you that information and have strong policies and practices they can share with you," Carroll says. "When you are signing with a hosting vendor that is pay-by-month that you found on the Internet -- are you going to be able to get that kind of detail? From what I've experienced so far, that answer is no, and for me that's a red flag."

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