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Microsoft TechEd attendees raise cloud computing security concerns

Colin Steele, Executive Editor
LOS ANGELES -- There's a lot of focus on cloud computing here at Microsoft TechEd 2009, but many systems administrators and developers have serious security concerns.

Proponents see cloud computing as a flexible model that can help businesses avoid major up-front hardware costs and simplify their infrastructure management. Others struggle to fully understand the technology, or they are reluctant to give third parties access to their data.

Consultant Andrew Heifetz of Exalt Consulting Group in Alexandria, Va. said all of his clients -- in both the public and private sector -- are looking at cloud computing. But it takes a lot of education before most feel comfortable with the model.

"At the IT level, people understand it," Heifetz said. "At the business level, it's a mixed bag. Some people are still trying to learn [service-oriented architecture], and it's very much like how SOA was a buzzword. But this is a little more concrete."

A developer with a Northern California software company said mass cloud computing adoption isn't likely, even though it's "a huge topic right now." "I don't see it happening at large enterprises," he said.

Cloud computing security and regulatory compliance concerns mean the model isn't an option for businesses in healthcare and finance -- two of the largest vertical markets -- this developer said. Even some other businesses are skittish about storing and processing their data outside the firewall.

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Heifetz agreed. "The security stuff is really hard," he said. "It's still a big concern."

A systems administrator for a Midwest manufacturer said he'd be worried about letting cloud providers process and store his company's data -- particularly if they have data centers in foreign countries, where it may be easier for governments to force providers to hand over customer data.

"I'm still skeptical," the systems administrator said. "I'd be cautious, especially at the outset."

But others see strong potential in cloud computing.

"I think it's the next big thing," said an East Coast public sector IT staffer. "It's going to revolutionize the way that we share data."

His department is considering cloud computing for its benefits as a collaborative development platform.

"It's really an economical thing, but we're also looking at it as a knowledge management thing," he said.

Developers will lead the charge in cloud adoption, and that will eventually spread to the rest of IT, he added.


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