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Google et al. pitch cloud computing to wary IT pros

Google, Amazon and touted cloud computing and challenged CIOs' concerns about security, cloud lock-in and a lack of standards at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston on June 9, a panel of cloud computing enthusiasts did their best to convince a group of skeptical CIOs and data center managers that cloud computing is reliable, affordable and, most of all, secure.

The discussion started with the three cloud computing providers -- Seattle, Wash.-based Inc., Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc. and San Francisco-based – all of which made the case for the cloud. Cloud computing is a pool of abstracted, highly scalable and managed compute infrastructure capable of hosting applications, and customers are billed based on usage.

Jeff Keltner, the business development manager at Google Apps, attempted to dispel some myths about cloud computing to alleviate the nervousness surrounding it.

Keltner said the security and reliability fears surrounding cloud computing are without merit and based more on perception than reality. "People feel more comfortable driving in their own car than flying in a plane, but statistics tell us that planes are safer," he said. "When thinking about cloud, weigh the risks of the cloud versus the risks of the current business environment."

Keltner also attempted to quell the notion that cloud computing is too new to trust. "People think that no one has really done this, but that is not true." He rattled off numerous enterprises doing cloud computing , including Iron Mountain, Automatic Data Processing Inc., or ADP, WebEx,, Google, VeriSign and many others.

Adam Selipsky, the vice president of product management and developer relations for Amazon Web Services, said the cloud is also a less expensive way to handle data; with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), for instance, users only pay for what they use and are not committed to any resources.

Selipsky said companies that experience a sudden demand for compute power due to a new project can boot up all the computing instances they need in a cloud environment and shut them off when they don't need them anymore. This way, there is no need to invest in new hardware that won't be used consistently, he said.

Cloud advocate and panelist Ross Piper, the senior vice president of enterprise strategy for the Software as a Service company, said the beauty of the cloud is that companies don't have to worry about bandwidth or security.

"You don't have to build the application stack with cloud computing or provision any servers; you just run the business," Piper said. "Because the cloud is a shared resource, all of the processing and the security are being shared by companies of all types, and the bar for all of that stuff is set very high for the companies using it."

Cloud computing skeptics, please rise
Mary Sobiechowski, the CIO at the health care communications firm Sudler & Hennessey in New York, said she can envision moving mail servers into the cloud but isn't confident about mission-critical applications. "We have grid computing being done, there are bandwidth issues and security issues. We need fast processing and to be able to port our applications out to our clients very fast," she said.

Meanwhile, Richard Mickool, the executive director and CTO of information services at Northeastern University in Boston, said cloud computing would be a great way to handle the surge of students who enter each semester, but the cloud doesn't have the applications the university needs, he said.

"Why not cloud today? The electricity components are there, but all of my apps aren't there yet," Mickool said. "Also, I get concerned about making choices that lock us in long term. I want to be able to fire you in three minutes if I need to."

Google's Keltner said while not all applications have made it to the cloud, many applications have been built. And as far as the question of getting locked into a cloud computing environment, Keltner, Piper and Selipsky all asserted that cloud users can take their data and leave at a moment's notice.

"The only way we can lock you in is by holding your data in, and I can tell you that Google will not do that," Keltner said. "We hope you get hooked, so you don't want to move anywhere else, but we won't lock your data in."

Amazon's Selipsky said, "We do things that keep us from locking you in; you can access your data in the language of your choice or use third-party libraries. … If you don't like a location, you can point [your data] to another location and simply move it," he said. "From a technical standpoint, we couldn't be more desertable."

He added, "We provide the virtual raw iron, and you can run whatever you want on it, and port it wherever you want. We don't care."

Cloud security
Carolyn Lawson, the CIO of San Francisco-based California Public Utilities Commission, said that while clouds can deliver services to the public in many ways, organizations like hers that hold personal data are reluctant to move to the cloud.

"From the government perspective, I don't see a time when we will move all of our information into the cloud, because [our data] includes Social Security numbers, driver's licenses; we know where your children go to school … and the public gives us his info and expects us to protect it," Lawson said. "If we give this data to a cloud computing company, and there is a security breach or if that company gets sold, how do we address that? I am accountable."

Selipsky said that Amazon holds sensitive personal data in the cloud and has built layers and layers of security to protect that data. "The question should be, 'How secure can you be by yourself compared to how secure you can be with another solution?' " he said. "In addition, there are multiple security mechanisms you can use, and we are always doing more to further security."

Google's Keltner said, "We've taken steps to lock down our environments that most companies wouldn't take, and our ability to invest in security is far greater than a government entity is given for security."

No standards in the cloud … yet
Richard Mark Soley, the chairman and CEO of Object Management Group Inc., a Needham, Mass.-based industry consortium responsible for several middleware standards, said his concern with cloud computing is the lack of standards, which may make it a challenge to port data and applications from one cloud provider to another.

Google's Keltner said the time it takes to migrate data and applications depends on the what needs to be migrated and that it will take time for standards to play out.

Amazon's Selipsky said cloud computing has a heterogeneous environment, similar to many data centers. "In terms of standards, if you are sitting on heterogeneous hardware and software and have licensing and contracts in your environment, how quick can you make changes today?" he said. "In the cloud, you may not be able to switch from one to another in three minutes - though you can shut us off that quick – so moving to a new system may require some re-engineering."

As far as cloud computing regulations go, it appears government has yet to catch up to the technology.

"I wouldn't suggest moving all of your apps over to the cloud today, but hopefully one day all will be the right word," Keltner said.

Cloud specs and cost
Today, most cloud computing providers host x86-compatible applications on virtualized servers, and most support only the Linux OS, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. To keep costs low, many cloud providers use a Xen-based hypervisor. Charges for usage are usually based on CPU hours, gigabits consumed and gigabits per second transferred rather than on a monthly service fee.

Specifically, Amazon charges 10 cents per compute-hour used and 15 cents per gigabyte of storage, Selipsky said. According to research by Forrester, that translates into about $70 to $150 per month for a fully utilized Amazon server, versus the average $400 a month that it costs an enterprise to run a server.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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