Cloud computing coming into focus for IT pros

Interop attendees have come quite far in understanding cloud computing, but old questions on visibility and security keep popping up.

NEW YORK -- IT pros may still be a little puzzled when it comes to what cloud computing can and cannot do, but according to organizers and attendees at Interop this week, they are now sure that they want it.

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At Interop Las Vegas last May, attendees were skeptical and unclear on what the term "cloud computing" meant. Now, thanks to relentless marketing blitzes and general community consensus on the basic properties of cloud, only the skepticism remains. And many show goers this week were looking for specific answers to their needs.

"In six months, it's gone from 'What is cloud?' to 'What's the ROI [return of investment]?'," said Alistair Croll, principal analyst at Bitcurrent and moderator for several cloud conferences at the show. Cloud computing had grown thanks to high-profile successes and growing adoption by users, he said.

There are always going to be tradeoffs between the cost and convenience of doing cloud and concerns over data privacy, Croll said, but that was an exercise for the customer and not the provider. He cited Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the iconic example of a "pure" cloud service. AWS was clear on the risks and responsibilities customers had, he said.

"[AWS CTO Werner Vogels] would say, 'We are not for you,'" said Croll, if potential users had high demands for visibility and security. Croll called AWS "very transparent" about what they offered.

That didn't sit well with some of the Interop audience. At one panel, Dominic Preuss, VP of product development at personal finances Web site filife.com, related how he had resolved a service hiccup at AWS. Filife.com runs entirely in AWS, and an Amazon networking glitch with another user caused traffic to surge out of control.

Preuss said his team knew people at the other company, and they resolved the problem without involving AWS support by being "good neighbors" and working around the flaw.

"From a security perspective, that won't work," snapped a member of the audience, "because 'good neighbor' policies are ideal from a bad guy's point of view." Others questioned the exact extent of a cloud provider's responsibility to prevent exploitable problems. Preuss commented that he took his lumps as a cloud user and acknowledged some of the drawbacks.

"It's not only a cloud," he said, "it is a dark, black, opaque cloud."

It's not only a cloud. It is a dark, black, opaque cloud.
Dominic Preuss, VP of product development at filife.com, on his issues with the cloud,
Other attendees were simply looking for the easiest ways to move IT operations into the cloud. Neil Broome, systems engineer at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, currently runs Microsoft Live for email services. Email was a natural choice for cloud deployment: it was either that, struggle to maintain legacy hardware and email systems or buy loads of expensive licenses and servers to run Exchange Server on premise.

Broome said the university has three campuses, one each on Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados, that are connected via frame relay and served by public Internet. While adopting cloud services was just a matter of time, cost and bandwidth, Broome is very happy to outsource infrastructure wherever possible. "Some campus data centers have heat issues" as is, he said.

At another lively panel debate, Joe Weinman, AT&T vice president for strategy and business development, said that economies of scale realized by multi-tenant, multi-homed cloud providers would surpass what enterprises are able to achieve and that movement into public clouds was inevitable. He would not comment about what might happen to rosy cost models if net neutrality were to collapse and telecoms began to charge more for bandwidth.

The consensus, however, was "message received." A financial services IT manager who declined to be named said that his own organization was already moving to a cloud services model internally. He said that public clouds had proven the concept quite well, but his IT operations would reshape internal IT well before they contemplated any shift to outside hosting.

"We already run shared service for a lot of business lines, " he said, and "everyone's on their own time scale" for the shift to cloud.

I>Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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