Evolution of the cloud

By Louise Burry
20 Jun 2011 View Comments

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Driven by multiple factors, including compelling cost savings and flexibility enhancements, the momentum that is driving cloud computing into businesses and organisations of all size is ramping up exponentially.

Speaking at a recent podcast discussion organised by Computing, Nigel Tyrell, head of environmental services at Lewisham London Borough Council, explained that cloud adoption is accelerating: "I think the cloud is gaining momentum because it puts the service back in control. It takes our data and gives it back to us, and allows us to use that data for service purposes. In the past couple of decades, it has been easy to bury that control within an IT department, but cloud computing puts the business back in control of the data and the systems. I think that's a good thing and a fantastic opportunity."

Do more with less
Rob Courtney, chief software architect for SSP, a global IT company that delivers consultancy and software solutions to help brokers, insurers and financial advisers, agreed that the cloud's ability to allow organisations to focus their IT on business rather than technology objects will drive future cloud adoption, particularly in the wake of the credit crunch: "I think the global financial crisis has made revenue growth much harder for many businesses. Consequently, I think there is a much greater focus on operational cost. You often hear the phrase, ‘doing more with less'. I think that has driven some of the demand for the cloud because people see that as a way of reducing operational costs."

However, while this momentum behind cloud computing is undeniable, it is equally undeniable that the cloud paradigm is highly disruptive in both technical and business terms as it potentially impacts on multiple areas and processes within organisations. Arguably, cloud is the most disruptive change to the corporate IT world since the client/server model emerged to challenge the dominance of the mainframe. It is obviously problematic to make key strategic business and technology decisions during the early stages of such a disruptive transition, but it is of paramount importance that business and technology decision-makers attempt to consider how the medium- and long-term forces will impact the cloud delivery model. While crystal ball gazing is a notoriously difficult exercise in the fast-paced world of enterprise technology, IT leaders need to design their architecture with a long-term vision in mind.

Uptake accelerates
A new report, The Economics of the Cloud, commissioned by Microsoft and published in November 2010, predicts that cloud adoption will accelerate as the economic benefit of public cloud ramp up over time. Its premise is that, as more and more work is done on public clouds, economies of scale will increase dramatically as large-scale data centres lower costs per server, and aggregation of demand for computing evens out overall variability, allowing server utilisation rates to increase. Additional efficiencies are expected to come from the transition to a multitenant application model, which will in effect increase the number of tenants (ie, customers or users) and so lower the application management and server cost per tenant.

Looking beyond increasingly compelling cost advantages, the functionality of cloud services will improve. As public and private clouds are in a relatively early stage of development at the moment, much development work is being undertaken to improve their core architectures so that critical areas such as reliability and security will continue to improve.

"Data already suggests that public cloud email is more reliable than most on-premises implementations. In Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), the automatic patching and updating of cloud systems greatly improves the security of all data and applications, as the majority of exploited vulnerabilities take advantage of systems that are out of date," according to The Economics of the Cloud.

"Many security experts argue there are no fundamental reasons why public clouds would be less secure; in fact, they are likely to become more secure than on-premises due to the intense scrutiny providers must place on security and the deep level of expertise they are developing."

Shift in perception
The report goes on to warn that cloud computing will only reach its full potential if issues of perception, and not just technology, are addressed. "Strength in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) adoption in large enterprises serves as proof of changing perceptions and indicates that even large, demanding enterprises are moving to the left on the horizontal axis (ie, reduced private preference). Just a few years ago, very few large companies were willing to shift their email, with all the confidential data it contains, to a cloud model. Yet this is exactly what is happening today. As positive use cases continue to spur more interest in cloud technology, this virtuous cycle will accelerate, driving greater interest in, and acceptance of, cloud."

Adam Collins, head of strategic consulting at Risual, a dedicated Microsoft Gold solutions partner delivering consultancy and technology solutions, noted that a shift in perception is helping to bring cloud computing into the mainstream. "I think it is a question of mindset, and it's not just related to IT. Once again, you're about to consume a service, and that fundamentally changes the way in which you currently support your people through the use of IT, so you need to be clear on what you're getting yourself into," he said.

Fear factor
Adrian Steele, head of infrastructure management for Royal Mail Group, agreed that many enterprises have nothing to fear from cloud computing apart from fear itself: "I think it comes down to the fear factor. People need to make the first move with cloud. A lot of the challenges within IT, or the scepticism within IT around cloud, come from people who have not moved, have not considered the move, nor have they looked at the benefits of it."

In light of these trends, it seems inevitable that the mainstream transition to the cloud will be facilitated, not just by economic benefits and improvements in the underlying technical platform, but also by changing perceptions. This will occur as business and technology leaders, together with other parties such as regulators, ISVs and systems integrations, become more comfortable with the cloud. The bottom line is that cloud is self-perpetuating, and as the paradigm is embraced more thoroughly, its value will increase.

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