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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Gene Ruth, a storage analyst at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, says his firm's big clients are interested in cloud computing, but they aren't moving production environments there yet. "I've heard plenty of people try to pick and choose what might be an interesting application for cloud storage," such as archiving or creating access points for contractors in development teams who don't need to use data inside firewalls, he says. "It's an emerging market," Ruth says. "It's not a done deal by a long shot."

Bursting the bubble

Information technology leaders who want to burst the cloud bubble offer arguments like these: Applications for their industries don't yet exist, they can't justify the cost, or cloud computing just isn't ready for enterprise use.

"Cloud computing is a solution looking for a problem. I don't need it right now," says Clarence White, CIO at the Western U.S. branch of The Salvation Army in Long Beach, Calif. One of the largest nonprofit organizations in the world, The Salvation Army has more than 100TB of active data, and its servers process tens of millions of transactions annually. White says he prefers to maintain tight control of his data and likes to have the ability to cross-reference information from different applications. "I haven't yet seen a cloud model that would facilitate my ability to quickly mine my data for business intelligence," he says. "I could be completely wrong, but I haven't seen it."

He also says that cloud computing's other potential uses -- as a means of providing scalable storage, safer disaster recovery or more easily deployed test environments -- have already been addressed in today's data centers with virtualization technology and storage-area networks.

White says he might consider cloud computing "when applications for my industry type are more mature and when the plumbing is mature enough that it feels as if I have local access to my data."

"I think it's overhyped," says Melvin Evans, IT director at Hand Arendall LLC, a Mobile, Ala.-based law firm. "It still sounds better on paper than it does in the real world."

He and his firm's business leaders grew skeptical about the cloud after the much publicized outages suffered by Google Inc. and other providers of hosted IT services in 2009. What's more, the law firm sees legal holes in many vendors' service-level agreements. "The vendors out there tout 95% to 99.9% uptime, but the way it's worded, there is no way you're going to get credit or reimbursement for a small amount of downtime," Evans says. "When the guarantee is worded with so many loopholes, I'll never be able to see that guarantee enforced."

Mike Wright says that in the heavily regulated financial services industry, strict mitigation requirements make cloud computing unappealing to small and midsize banks like the one he works for.

Beyond, say, a document-imaging application, "I can't think of any application that would benefit us for this type of a medium-size business," says Wright, vice president and IT director at HomeTown Bank, a community bank based in Roanoke, Va. "There are certain things that we could virtualize, but we would have to have control over and ownership of the hardware. It circles back around to risk mitigation."

Cloud computing may seem overhyped because so many marketers are jumping on the bandwagon. "To make it seem bigger than it is, many people are including everything they can in [the term] cloud," says Michael Peterson, president of Strategic Research Corp., an IT research and consulting firm in Santa Barbara, Calif. He says he thinks of true cloud computing functions as pre-existing grid-style compute-and-storage services, tightly coupled remote compute-and-storage services that are remote but look local, and hosted computing services.

Functions that shouldn't be considered cloud computing, says Peterson, include remote delivery of everyday data center services such as replication and disaster recovery, routine Web 2.0 services, application service providers' offerings and social networking.

Deciphering the meaning of the term cloud would help the industry "get a handle on adoption," he adds.

Collett is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at stcollett@aol.com.

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