There are reasons aplenty to stick your head into cloud computing, says Forrester Research Inc. analyst James Staten. IT can't keep up with the demands of the business. The best Web services companies have maxed out their data centers for efficiency, and those babies can handle almost anything you throw them. You pay by the drink. You are free of long-term contracts. Most cloud vendors let you come and go as you please, Staten said. And all you need to do is log in.
But that doesn't mean cloud computing is enterprise-ready. For your beach-reading entertainment, a cloud computing overview: 12 reasons, courtesy of Staten and his team, why the technology is -- or isn't -- coming to an enterprise near you.
P.S.: Cloud computing, by Forrester's definition, refers to "a pool of highly scalable and managed compute infrastructure capable of hosting end-customer applications and billed by consumption."
Why cloud computing
- Capacity planning is hard to do: Of course, you want to provision IT at Internet speed, but figuring out whether the data center can hold another service, and where that service should go and what needs to be moved to make room for it, takes time. Also, there is a dearth of good tools to do this.
- Catch-22: You have vowed to keep up with the business, but "just give them another server" doesn't cut it anymore, because IT must control spending.
- The Biz wants a down-and-dirty prototype -- nothing big or fully baked: So, again, why can't IT squeeze in this modest proposal? Because it's hard to fit it in. (See No. 1) Security reasons also make it hard for you to set up an outside play area for them to kick around the idea.
- The data centers of the big Internet services providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com Inc. or Akamai Technologies Inc., are better than yours. "Vastly superior," team Staten says. Economies of scale can get you a real deal on the economics of running a data center, not to mention kid-glove treatment from sharp-clawed hardware, software and maintenance vendors.
- Their data centers are better than yours, part 2. Big Internet service providers have not only better processes but also management and administration tools that, almost like magic, can spread applications across thousands of servers and scale them quickly, reminds Staten. (For more on these points, Staten suggests you read Amazon CTO Werner Vogels' blog, All Things Distributed.
Why not, cloud computing
No bandwagon. For a service to be ready for the enterprise to consume, Forrester feels that a sufficient volume of enterprise customers has to use it. Makes sense. At this stage, that isn't happening. The main consumers of cloud computing are small fries and startups that don't have the legacy headaches you have, or the hardened attitudes about giving up control. However, "platforms are maturing," and two to three years hence, being on the bandwagon will be the smart way to go.
In the meantime, some seemingly staid companies like The New York Times Co. are getting a toehold. The Grey Lady, despite real jitters on the part of NYT IT developer Derek Gottfrid, leveraged Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and Amazon Simple Storage Service to help get its archives online, Staten reports.
- Stability: cloudy today. Most cloud vendors do not provide availability assurances, and service-level agreements are mostly nonexistent, according to Forrester. A big deterrent for enterprises (and CIOs, who want to stay employed, no?).
- Not a lot of name brands. Big companies have an affinity for marquee names when it comes to their vendors, and with the exception of Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com and Akamai, name brands are none too plentiful in the clouds. Google Inc., Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. are coming, but until more big players have skin in the clouds, big companies will stay away, Forrester predicts.
- No name brands, redux: The companies that are using cloud computing are not eager to act as references, according to Staten, who made repeated requests for customer testimonials, to no effect.
- Security: Enterprise CIOs worry that cloud providers have not battened down the hatches against security breaches, but this might be a bum rap, Staten said. Hosting companies that are expanding into the cloud proudly tell Forrester security is one of their core competencies, rather than the "necessary evil" it is for most companies.
- Lack of commercial independent software vendor support: Most clouds are unique infrastructures and providers are secretive, so commercial operating systems and applications are not certified on these platforms. Also, given that the infrastructures by definition are virtualized, licensing is an issue.
- Can't pick the neighborhood. With the exception of Akamai and Layered Technologies Inc., cloud vendors interviewed by Forrester will not place your app in a specific geography. Most don't have geographic coverage. Amazon EC2 does but won't tell your where your stuff is located.
Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.