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.

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The New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is hoping that cloud computing will help it handle the 30% jump in demand for its services over the past year as a result of record job losses in the state.

"Our data center is running out of capacity," says CIO Daniel Chan, "and we don't really have enough staff to do the work that we need to get done. So the idea is, can we do something creatively to outsource some of these computing needs?" Chan says he would like to use the cloud for application and development testing first, and then possibly offer Web-based applications to users.

The state agency's current technology is at least one generation behind, Chan says, because the need to comply with government policies on security and other matters leads to delays in deployments. What's more, IT costs are higher than they should be because by the time purchases are approved, the technology is dated, but the state is still paying what it cost when it was new.

If the agency did testing in the cloud, Chan says, it could get systems up and running faster because it would be able to quickly set up multiple test environments, allowing many employees to test concurrently -- on more current equipment that would be less costly because it wouldn't have the bells and whistles of a production environment. "We don't need that same level of robustness" as in a production environment, Chan says. Right now, "in most cases, we pay for the functionality we really don't need for test and development," he explains.

With cloud computing, the agency can stay up to date technologically, Chan says. He plans to launch the agency's first cloud project in the second half of this year. "If we can demonstrate that we're saving the taxpayers money, I'm sure we can get the procurement agency on board," he says. "From a business perspective, it's a very compelling story."

The American Bible Society uses Amazon.com Inc.'s cloud services for 80GB to 100GB of Web files, but that's just the beginning, says CIO and Chief Technology Officer Nick Garbidakis. The Manhattan-based organization plans to use cloud services for some disaster recovery and storage, but Garbidakis says he will move more data to the cloud when servers or equipment needs to be replaced, and he will push out more when bandwidth becomes more affordable for the nonprofit group.

"Any deployment we do, any change of service providers, usually we do it at a time we are ready to retire some five-year-old servers, for example," Garbidakis says. "We would not go out and try to do it while some new servers are deployed already."

The data going to the cloud will be secondary files, "so if it takes an extra second or two to access, it's not a big problem," he says. "I wouldn't push out any of my financial data or primary data right now."

Garbidakis says he expects to move nontransactional systems to the cloud within a year and more heavy-duty applications to the cloud in five years -- "if hardware, software and management costs go down."

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