Just a couple of years ago, some prominent analysts would have had us believe that cloud computing was poised to sweep all before it. Firms would be queuing up to fill roadside skips with newly-redundant hardware, and IT staff would be rede-ployed as strategic information workers, while server rooms would be refitted as high-tech breakouts or Google-esque “snugs”.
While there have been major advances in the use of the cloud, even its most ardent advocates would admit that take-up has not been as rapid or as far reaching as most had imagined.
Among 150 IT professionals in medium-to-large organisations surveyed by Computing, two-thirds have adopted some form of cloud computing (figure 1). But of those that have, more than half said adoption was “to a very limited extent” while just one in 20 had placed more than half of their operations in the cloud.
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In particular, moving legacy and mission-critical applications to the cloud remains a minority pursuit. So what are the sticking points?
With many IT ventures, difficulty in making the business case can be a stumbling block, but this is not to blame in this case.
Among survey respondents using cloud services, the decision to adopt came directly from senior business executives in 10 per cent of cases, while in a further third the board was persuaded by either the financial or operational advantages, or by a pilot study. In most of the remainder, the board trusted the IT department to produce the goods.
Instead, the reluctance to fully embrace cloud services stems from fears by IT leaders that shifting mission-critical applications to the cloud may offer few advantages and merely put essential operations at risk.
The survey found that, despite a concerted effort on the part of cloud suppliers to persuade businesses that there is a cloud to suit every business and regulatory scenario, generalised concerns about security and control remain stubbornly in place.
The barriers to increased adoption
Data security is still by far the overriding concern among IT decision makers, cited by over 70 per cent of those who say that cloud services will play no significant part in the make-up of their IT systems any time soon. This will come as a disappointment to PR departments at cloud vendors, who have spent significant energy and resources trying to paint a picture of enhanced security. It seems that that no amount of assurance will convince a large subsection of punters that the type of world-class infrastructure cloud suppliers deploy will make their data any more secure than if it were kept on-premises.
“Security of confidential data [is the main reason for keeping key data onsite]; cloud solutions generally give relatively poor guarantees around data security/availability,” said one respondent.
After data security, over-reliance on a third party (37 per cent, with vendor lock-in also cited by 12 per cent), compliance issues over datacentre location and data transfer (31 per cent), and infrastructure security (28 per cent) were perceived to be the next most serious obstacles.
Such concerns, which are making a significant number of organisations wary of going further with the cloud model even after they have dipped in a toe, have remained stubbornly fixed over the past two or three years. So do these fears melt away on closer acquaintance with the cloud?
Among IT heads who have taken the plunge and moved important functions to the cloud, the survey suggests a subtle shift in the nature of their concerns. While security fears lessen to a degree, there is some evidence that concerns over performance and contractual issues actually increase (figure 2).
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Starting with security, the message is clear. While they remain relatively high, data security worries do tend to lessen after moving to the cloud.