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The Real Deal With Cloud Computing May 11, 2012

Posted by kbrendelmu in Cloud Computing.
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Separating Cloud Computing From Marketing Hype
and Dealing With Popular Misconceptions

In recent years some big names in technology have been throwing out the word “Cloud” in their television advertisements. For example Microsoft had a number of “To The Cloud” ads on television and Apple had a number of iCloud ads as well, both tend give people misconceptions as to what the “Cloud” really is. Here I discuss 5 common misconceptions about the cloud as I see them.

The Cloud is All About Cost Savings in I.T.

This misconception is completely not true. Moving your data to the cloud can certainly save you some big money by reducing hardware, software and maintenance costs associated with housing it locally, but thats not all the cloud is cracked up to be. The cloud offers a number of other benefits besides savings such as the ability to offer new services to your customers that previously wasn’t attainable running your own servers. Another benefit is system uptime, cloud service providers often guarantee over 98% uptime and no matter how much you try that is not achievable running your own server locally. Expandability is one of the nicest benefits of cloud computing, as the traffic demand of your data or application increases your cloud provider can add more space or processing power to handle the spike. The benefits dont stop here, but as you can see its not all about the money.

The Cloud Providers are All The Same and One Size Fits All

This is a big time misconception about the cloud, simply put it couldn’t be further from the truth. There are so many different cloud providers available today, some are really big players like Amazon for example, but none of them have exactly the same services or pricing plans. Service providers can offer many different services models such as Software As A Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). Some may only offer data storage, or other niche services. Then depending on what service model you choose to fit your companies needs you should start comparing vendors. Pay attention to the different way they charge for their service, is it by bandwidth use or processing? Which does your application or use of the cloud use more of? Also check the Service Level Agreements to determine the providers guaranteed uptime, security they provide for your data if any and make sure that you own your data.

Once Your In, Your Locked In For Good!

Vendor lock-in is a real concern among IT professionals looking to take advantage of cloud services for their company. They feel that once they choose a vendor, move their data over to the cloud, they can’t easily get that data back. Some people believe that the providers actually have proprietary encryption to make it hard to move to another provider in the future. Proprietary encryption is pretty unlikely, but vendor lock in is a real concern. However most quality Software as a Service cloud vendors will let you export your data raw as it is. Where many people need to be careful is that when you move from one cloud provider to another you are going to be paying twice for the same data to be transferred to and from providers. Depending on the data store your moving, this could get costly. Looking to the future vendor lock I believe will become much less of a concern. The IT industry is already looking in to setting standards among cloud providers and companies are attempting to implement strategies such as RACS (Redundant Array of Cloud Storage). The theory behind RACS [1] is that your data is carried through a RACS proxy which then replicates the data to your different repositories. This way your data is actually kept with multiple cloud providers making it easy to switch a provider, and no requirement to pay to transfer your data out of the cloud you are terminating. Ideas like RACS and others will become more prevalent as we continue to further develop cloud computing.

My Data Isn’t Safe in the Cloud

Your data in the cloud is just as safe as it was locally, if not safer. Cloud providers include many safeguards to protect your data including data backup services. The providers realize that one breach to any of their customers data could most likely put them out of business. Now the security they provide can change with each vendor, and it varies depending on what cloud model your using (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS). Also currently there are no official standards that cloud providers need to adhere to so you do your homework on each provider. To make understanding the security practices of cloud providers easier a online registry has been created called STAR (Security Trust Assurance Registry) [2] by the Cloud Security Alliance. The STAR registry [3] allows cloud providers to answer the same questions about how they maintain confidentiality, integrity and availability of their customers data. This helps compare the security practices among different vendors in one single place. The way the providers answer the questions in for STAR is very similar to a how someone would fill out an RFP. The sections in the questionaire are shown below, but I think you will agree it is a very detailed list of information that anyone looking to expand into the cloud concerned about data security can reference for piece of mind.

  • Compliance – 8 areas
  • Data Governance – 8 areas
  • Facility Security – 8 areas
  • Human Resources Security – 3 areas
  • Information Security – 34 areas
  • Legal – 2 areas
  • Operations Management – 4 areas
  • Risk Management – 5 areas
  • Release Management – 5 areas
  • Resiliency – 8 areas
  • Security Architecture – 15 areas
The Clouds Performance is Inconsistent

The beauty of cloud computing is that when you move your data or applications into the cloud your not limited to one system. You have the benefit of all the cloud provider offers. This includes replication, where as if one server fails, the replicated servers will take over and handle the load virtually with no downtime at all. Of course there are more concerns than just downtime, and a large one is latency. Will the latency of moving my application to the cloud slow down the performance? Latency unfortunately to some degree is unavoidable because data can’t move faster than the speed of light.  However there are things that you can do to still reap the other large benefits of the cloud and not lose much performance. The impact of latency can be minimized by choosing a provider that has servers closer to your location. If your application is used country or world-wide you can spread your server replications accordingly keeping the distance from a server to user shorter. Cloud providers will consult you on what your intentions are in the cloud and help maximize the performance of your application. 

In Conclusion
Putting the marketing hype aside the benefits of cloud computing can really help IT departments and companies in many ways, and they should embrace them. The cloud can offer cost savings in hardware, software, and management. It can improve the performance and reliability of your applications or services. In addition it can open new doors for your company to offer new services or gain access to new opportunities. As long as you do your homework, know what you want out of it, and compare providers before jumping in you’ll see the water feels fine!
References

[1] http://pubs.0xff.ps/papers/racs-socc.pdf

[2] Is my Data Safe In the Cloud? Part1 and Part2: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/education/archive/2012/04/17/is-my-data-safe-in-the-cloud-part-one-csa-star.aspxhttp://blogs.msdn.com/b/education/archive/2012/04/18/is-my-data-safe-in-the-cloud-part-two-csa-star.aspx

[3] STAR Registry https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/star/

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