At the Cloud Computing Expo in March, IBM announced a cloud computing manifesto. Big Blue claims this will facilitate interoperability in cloud computing, making the technology easier to use and more appealing to businesses.
However, other major technology companies – including Microsoft, Google and the Cloud Computing Interoperability Forum – have refused to sign up.
This is, of course, worrying for advocates of cloud computing. The fact that such big names have rejected the manifesto will do nothing to instill business confidence in the system.
Cloud computing undoubtedly offers some cost savings, and is great for mobile and flexible working. No longer do workers need a desktop; all applications and documents can be held 'in the cloud' – accessible via portable devices anywhere.
However, there are serious downsides. When dealing with large providers, businesses need to be aware that they could be seen as just a number.
And just imagine if the fault that caused the Gmail crash had happened to a major cloud provider holding all a business’s documents and applications. In the current economic climate, lengthy downtime could be fatal.
Businesses also need to beware of compliance issues and it is important to know who is holding sensitive data. It may be possible to fall foul of legislation if documents are put in the cloud without a full risk assessment.
This brings up yet another issue. If the company holding the data in its cloud were to go out of business, it would have all the information in datacentres. Therefore, carrying out financial due diligence on partners is essential.
Customer lock-in is another serious issue. Data in the cloud is held in the provider’s infrastructure, so transferring it can be difficult.
For example, if an organisation has all its emails stored in the cloud but wants to transfer the data to another provider, it will have to ensure the new host can import the mail into its email software.
We will need to wait for many applications to mature before transfers between cloud providers becomes commonplace.
For cloud computing to succeed in the long term, there will need to be independent regulation on how data is shared and transferred.
Meanwhile, a business must have a good back-up or disaster recovery plan. A local provider may better guarantee a properly maintained service as well as focused support.
Scott Fletcher is chief executive officer at ANS Group
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