Cloud Caution: Look Before You Leap! [Myths]

The ‘Cloud’ is taking the world by storm, thanks to thousands of happy (debatable) start-ups and other businesses operating in it, and also to the PR force of Google, Microsoft, Salesforce.com and Sun. Before diving into the details, let’s understand the cloud in a few words. Cloud is a virtual storage space and a software holding tank. So it doesn’t only let you part with the heavy servers (space and memory wise) but is also a form of software outsourcing which greatly reduces upgrade hassles and other potential software problems. Cloud computing is a model which certainly has advantage, but for some businesses its shortcomings not be able to offset the advantages. In addition to well known risks like security and performance, some other myths and resulting risks are as follows:

1) Cloud Computing is a cure all!

Cloud may not be the answer to all your software needs. Based on their sensitivity, not all applications may be ideal candidates for offloading to the cloud. For e.g. when it comes to financial applications governed by strict compliance regulations, “most of the cloud vendors do not provide availability assurance. Service level agreements are almost not existent” outlines Forrester report. So it may not be a good idea for all the businesses of various levels to pass on applications and software to the cloud.

2) Everything offloaded. Only technical risks now!

Yes, you offload and outsource everything to the cloud vendors and think that you need to worry only about technical risks. But the same offloading also gives rise to ‘Vendor risks’. Thus, if the cloud company you rely on experience technical (or non-technical) problems and shuts down, the same will be the fate of your business.

3) Price- Low and will always remain so!

Richard Stallman, the man behind Free Software Foundation, puts forward this risk. “The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we have re-defined cloud computing to include everything that we already do.. and it forces people to hand over their information to the third party” Stallman says. The risk emanating from this is that the value of information may see an upward surge in times to come. As cloud vendors take charge of your data, expect high charges and fees which may even surpass the traditional storage model.

4) Switching cloud vendors may be the solution to all the problems!

“The reality is that I can’t switch vendors” says Fredric Paul, publisher of bMighty.com. Switching cloud vendors may not be as easy as those youtube videos may want you to believe. It largely depends on which VM (Virtual Machine) you are using. It may be very difficult to switch from say VMware to Xen and vice versa. You may have to set up the same VM infrastructure and replicate or set up a physical server resource and do a migration. In a nutshell, high switching cost and data safety issues.

5) Vendor- Bigger the Better!

This is relatable to the above mentioned second myth, but the halo around the BIG cloud vendors makes it imperative to describe it separately. The presence of online leaders like Amazon, Google and Yahoo! in the cloud industry has boosted its credibility, but their presence may be of very little use if they can’t deliver quality services. Take for instance, in February 2008; Amazon S3 experienced problems for 3 hours, leaving companies worldwide without access to their data. The recent decision by Yahoo! to close down some of its services (though not related to cloud computing) can demonstrate the risk of provider pulling the plug on the service at any moment. The company we are talking about here is no fly-by-night provider but a well established internet giant. Thus, the lesson learnt is that even the gigantic cloud vendors cannot be relied upon blindly.

Cloud computing is the next big phenomenon. The start-ups and established giants cannot completely rule it off. However, it is a path which should be adopted with caution. Cloud computing may not be for every business out there, and even for businesses which prefers the cloud some of the key features like interpolability (harmonious working of various applications) and reliability should not be ignored. Towards the end, it would also be desirous to have a contingency plan in place if ever your cloud vendor may decide to call it a day.

What’s your take?

[Guest article by Harsh Gagrani.]

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