5 dark linings in the silver cloud

It wasn’t that long ago that the entire information technology industry was swept away with cloud computing fever. But now, some people are finding that the fever is subsiding, and all they’ve got left is a dry hack.

How bad is it? As InformationWeek’s Bob Evans recently noted, the chief executive officers at Hewlett-Packard and IBM recently complained that the technology had an image problem and needed a new moniker. IBM’s Sam Palmisano said cloud computing was “an unfortunate name” and suggested something more descriptive: highly virtualized infrastructure. (Cough.)

But branding is hardly the most pressing problem with cloud computing these days.

Every week seems to bring a new complaint about a technology that has been viewed as the cure-all for the information infrastructure.

The potential is still there. Why should every agency maintain its own applications and infrastructure? With cloud computing, they pay to have their applications hosted and managed on a remote server farm and made available to users via the Internet.

But now people are beginning to notice that the cure comes with some disturbing side effects. Here are five symptoms of a technology going through what might be described, with some understatement, as a rough patch.

1. Fogbound customers. How do you build a strategy around a technology that people just don’t understand? As reported by ZDnet blogger Sam Diaz, a recent survey of IT professionals found that 40 percent of respondents were confused by the concept of cloud computing. Only 24 percent said they believed that their top leaders could explain it.

2. New cracks in security. Researchers at MIT and the University of California at San Diego have raised new concerns about security in the cloud, reports Jaikumar Vijayan at Computerworld. They found that it's possible for hackers who gain access to one system in the cloud to find their way into other systems. “The research raises questions about a fundamental assumption about cloud computing, which says that data hosted in a cloud is relatively safe from targeted attacks because it's hard to know where in the cloud the data is located,” Vijayan wrote.

3. Privacy caveats. Microsoft recently published a paper spelling out the privacy underpinnings of its cloud-based services, addressing questions about how the company manages the data and deals with privacy notices and other legal issues. Unfortunately, as noted by InformationWeek’s Thomas Claburn, Microsoft also acknowledges that its own policy could run into conflicting legal obligations created by various government rules. Microsoft’s policy might be sound, but “Microsoft isn't always calling the shots,” Claburn wrote.

4. Hidden costs. The business case for cloud computing often assumes that the money saved by off-loading the management of the applications and infrastructure will more than make up for the cost of the cloud services. But consultant Chris Curran, writing for CIO.com, warns would-be customers to take a long, hard look at the expenses for the “people, processes and architecture” associated with their operations and “not simply the ‘cost per drink’ ” of a given application.

5. Nightmare case studies. Last month, some T-Mobile customers using Sidekick phones were informed that their contacts and other data might have been lost because of technical problems with the storage service provided by Danger, a Microsoft subsidiary. The service was based on cloud computing. “While it's unlikely that one should conflate this situation with the totality of cloud computing, there are some very, very important issues highlighted by this situation that are worth exploring and understanding,” wrote IT World’s Bernard Golden.

Don’t get us wrong: No one is predicting the death of cloud computing. But a lot of people are definitely feeling queasy about its future. 

About the Author

John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 1, 2009

Anyone with any sense should know that giving up control of your valuable data is a terrible concept.

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