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29.03.2012

‘The Cloud’ – Is it for everyone?

In the data centre business, there is always going to be some new technology or new product peering over the horizon. Several years ago, a new buzzword manifested in the realms of internet discussion and all of a sudden everybody was talking about – ‘The Cloud’. Having grown up in the United Kingdom, I am certainly no stranger to the word ‘cloud’ and it’s regularity to appear in conversation, particularly at bus stops in the height of summer, but this may be one of the few instances where the word is instilled with enthusiasm by many.

Chances are that you’ve probably heard of Cloud computing, whether you’re computer savvy or not. Put simply, it is a marketing term for technologies that provide computing as a service rather than a product. It embodies the concept that data processing and storage exists, not within an organization’s own designated data centre, but whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices as a metered service over the internet. One of the major benefactors of distributed computing across numerous server farms is that the processing power of a service, application or company can be effectively managed far greater at a cheaper cost than traditional computing archetypes, and in the current economic climate, who wouldn’t want that?

Well, quite a few people actually. The truth is that there is no such thing as a free ride, and the Cloud certainly raises a few hesitancies among some. A lot of customers still want control, and that’s fine, but a SaaS (“Software as a Service”) company will require the data to come to them and that may not always address the customer’s requirements; some companies have policies where the data doesn’t leave the building at all. It has also been documented that the Cloud struggles to move large data sets quickly; so why would an organization who frequently moves this amount of data opt for Cloud computing when the fastest way to move 5 terabytes is via logistics?

Unfortunately, these are just a few of many questions raised with Cloud Computing. The fact that it is still relatively new means that regulations and legislation laws haven’t quite caught up with the Cloud yet, and it may not be okay for some enterprises’ data to cross international borders. Some companies may also be concerned for the security of the data in question. Of course, Cloud companies will most-likely have everything under control – but the data is in the hands of a third-party and is ‘most-likely’ really enough to satisfy the customer’s concerns?

Saying that, the Cloud does have it’s advantages for small and medium sized businesses who may find that paying less money for a third-party to ensure the maintenance and expansion of it’s IT infrastructure will allow them to focus on the company’s objectives. Organizations larger than your average Cloud services provider, however, may find that creating their own cloud is a more viable option, but when does a Cloud stop being a Cloud? There are some discrepancies over the terminology of a ‘private cloud’ for many; the key factor of the cloud concept being that the enterprise itself isn’t required to host and maintain it’s own IT infrastructure. Some will argue that it is just file virtualization wearing a different suit and granted, it’s very similar, but the debate is beyond the scope of this article. The point is that a lot of the major companies already have an existing virtualization infrastructure in place, meaning that a move to a ‘private cloud’ isn’t a mile away.

Still, not everybody is sold on the concept of Cloud computing due to the number of questions hanging over it, so one could argue that a traditional data-centre is still indeed the best way forward for many organizations. Nevertheless, the Cloud is progressively addressing these issues and improving every day. At this moment in time opinions are divided; some avoid the cloud like bad weather, others see it as a silver lining economically.

The question is – what’s best for your business?

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