Why cloud computing is not for everyone

I’m often invited by CEOs and CFOs to explain what all the excitement is about this thing called cloud. They’ve all heard the term, but they’re not sure what it really means. They’ve been told that they can save a lot of money by having their employees use the cloud for their computing needs, and in today’s business climate, who’s not interested in saving money? They ask me to explain in simple terms just what it means to move to the cloud, and to find out if it really makes sense for them. They want to know why some companies have been reluctant to adopt cloud computing. “If it’s so good”, they ask, then “why isn’t everyone jumping in?”

There’s nothing new about the cloud. Early mainframes provided cloud-based computing services. RJE, HASP, and TSO allowed users to submit jobs for processing from a remote terminal. With a few keystrokes, anyone with a terminal and a connection to the system could leverage the enormous computing power of an IBM 360 or 370. While somewhat clumsy, these technologies did enable the delivery of large amounts of computing power to remote users in a cost-effective manner. Disk storage was very expensive so data was maintained on the mainframe. Users had no local storage, and if you wanted your data to persist you were charged dearly for the space. The basic elements of cloud computing – centralized computing resources, standardized application services, data storage, and remote connectivity – were already in place.

Years later, bandwidth, storage capacity, and compute power have increased exponentially. Simple character-based protocols have been replaced with rich network traffic. We’re able to process large amounts of data with powerful processors, faster memory, and almost unlimited amounts of storage. High speed routers, coax and fiber help deliver this rich content effectively over great distances. Books, magazines, and newspapers are quickly becoming obsolete, replaced with online content. Music and video is routinely streamed to the home or mobile phone, and almost no one uses a dictionary or encyclopedia. The data is maintained in the cloud, and the same content is delivered to everyone. It makes perfect sense to maintain a single repository in the cloud, providing the infrastructure is able to properly scale. The centralized data can be accessed from anywhere, allowing users to access their content on a variety of devices from almost anywhere in the world.

The cloud is much more than a data repository, however. Today’s clouds offer not only virtualized desktops and servers, but resources such as CPUs, memory, LANs, SANs, and networks that can be combined and configured to provide complete solutions in the cloud. In addition to platform services, the cloud can deliver SaaS applications such as word processing and graphics design on an ‘as needed’ or rental basis. Applications in the cloud can be easily updated in one place, and the new version deployed users without requiring them to do anything. A cloud also makes the perfect platform for a mobile device deployment where security, compliance, governance, and lifecycle management are critical. IT and business processes can be automated to reduce costs, and the cloud can host proactive management tools as well as rules-based analytics to help lower operating costs.

With all of these advantages, why isn’t cloud being embraced by more companies? Why have companies resisted moving their applications en masse to the cloud? Let’s take a look at some of the key issues why cloud has just not taken off.

First, all clouds are not the same.

A private cloud is installed and hosted on company premises. It is configured and maintained by the company’s IT organization. They establish and enforce security and access rights. A private cloud may or may not allow an incoming VPN for management or external access. The equipment is usually purchased, capitalized, and maintained by the internal staff. Because the private cloud remains on the customer premises, it can utilize existing directory and authentication servers on the local network and can access internal resources.

A public cloud provides access to virtual operating system images, instances, and applications for a fee, similar to AWS. There are several ways to use a public cloud, but so far, most seem to be using it to spin up a copy of Windows or Linux and kick the tires. Depending on the level of access, users may be able to store their files on a SAN or virtual file system. At the lowest price point, instances might get swapped out or destroyed without warning. Since Virtual Machines are often shared across a large number of subscribers, performance can suffer significantly as instances are swapped in an out among users, and response times may not be deterministic. Communications between VMs on virtual networks can be slow due to heavy network traffic and network isolation requirements.

Another type of cloud may be what I refer to as a local data cloud. A local data cloud contains one or more elements of both a private and a public cloud. For example, suppose a company wants to offer a public cloud where outside users can execute programs, but company employees can log on to the public cloud to perform support and administration tasks. The cloud could be configured to run the users’ virtual machines in the public address space but require those users to be authenticated with company’s internal authentication server. Another example might be the ability to permit users with an elevated level of entitlement to access certain resources on the intranet while those resources would remain invisible to others.

A compelling aspect of the local data cloud is a cloud that provides a single, managed application stack, while at the same time preventing any data from moving outside the users’ local environment. Data remains on the user’s system or on an internal repository, but never gets past the firewall. In this model, companies and users can leverage the benefit of single-sourced, managed applications in the cloud but also enforce local authentication and IT policy compliance. Data remains under the control of the company and cannot be accessed by anyone without proper credentials or access rights. The uncertainties of having confidential or sensitive data stored or exposed anywhere outside a company’s intranet is perhaps the most important reason why companies have resisted moving to the cloud. A company’s data is perhaps their most valuable asset, and they simply don’t want it stored anywhere outside their company.

 

 

What’s the near future look like for mobile?

Look around. Everyone is carrying a mobile device, from the texting zombies in the supermarket and mall to the men and women conducting their business from a table at the local Starbucks or Panera Bread. Work doesn’t always have to be done at the office or from home. Sure, you can’t normally print documents or take advantage of a large display, but you can interact with clients on websites and through email and social media wherever you are. Mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity have enabled users to bring the workplace and data to them. This is only the tip of the iceberg. What can we expect to see in the very near future?

  • More and more will work from home, from mobile offices or locations.
  • Work will more often be done at off-hours while workers juggle work-family balance.
  • Wireless broadband connectivity will continue to be intermittent and have spotty coverage so devices will need to have intelligent caching of business data and knowledge.
  • Users will prefer to carry one device that provides access to all of their services.
  • Small form-factor devices will require that software be more intelligent to minimize interactions with small screens and keyboards.
  • Business processes will be streamlined to minimize required user interaction
  • Security will be paramount as malware and trojan vendors shift their focus to the larger attack surface provided mobile devices.
  • Management of the mobile devices including auto wipe, tracking, disaster recovery will become more important as businesses rely more on mobile devices. This is extremely important in an enterprise environment where users often carry sensitive data on their devices.
  • Collaboration between mobile devices will become more important as more workers rely on mobile devices as their primary communications device. This includes instant messaging, video chat, and meeting collaboration services. These services must be secure.
  • Integration with social media sites will become more important as workers become more and more connected with other mobile workers.
  • Mobile workers will likely elect to carry one (and at the most two) mobile devices to do their tasks. Notebook systems are still too large and heavy. Netbooks are better but are still too large to be practical.
  • Despite advances in battery technology, battery life will continue to be an issue. Devices will need to make more efficient use of battery power using intelligent transfer, replication, and caching.
  • Customers and users will depend on the ability to access their data securely and privately from any location. The data should be available across multiple device types, connectivity, and form factors.
  • Mobile devices must support accessibility to enable their use by the disabled as well as to comply with government regulations.
  • Accurate location information will be important to provide location-based services. All devices will provide location information accurate to within a few feet.
  • A global workforce will require all mobile devices to have built-in translation for written and spoken language.

Healthcare

  • Healthcare costs will continue to increase and further strain funding sources such as Medicare. Mobile devices and applications that collect clinical data, share treatment therapies, schedule procedures and order prescriptions will help reduce costs and minimize errors.
  • In the Third World and emerging states, mobile caregivers like Doctors without Borders will rely heavily on mobile wireless devices that leverage the wireless infrastructure. Copper connections will only exist in heavily populated areas because of the high cost of deploying those connections.
  • Mobile devices will be routinely used to gather patient data, perform diagnostic procedures, and share data and therapies with other physicians.
  • Mobile devices woven into the fabric of clothing will allow patient data to be monitored and shared with physicians. The physician will be able to interact with the device to change how and what is being monitored without physically seeing the patient.

Manufacturing

  • Business will use mobile devices as a way to place orders, create and execute contracts, and to provide customer support. Back-end processes will be streamlined to permit easy interaction with users to minimize physical interactions with the device.
  • Mobile devices can improve supply chain management by providing spot pricing and availability as well as ordering in commodity and futures markets.
  • Tracking and identification of products on the factory floor as well as work in progress, inventories, and location of items will be easy to locate with a handheld device.
  • Shop floor management will use mobile devices to provide real time status of production against requirements and deliverables.

Transportation

  • Transportation companies will continue to use mobile wireless devices as a way to track deliveries. Inexpensive wireless transceivers will be attached to packages to allow their position to be easily located. Airlines will never again lose a customer’s bag.

Finance

  • Customers and mobile users will rely on their mobile devices to perform trades, check stock prices, place orders, etc. Because of the nature of the data, security will continue to drive the adoption of mobile devices. The ability to remotely locate and/or wipe a device is absolutely imperative.

Retail

  • Retail will provide a substantial opportunity for wireless mobile devices. Security will continue to be important as customers will be able to order goods and services using their mobile device. Position information will be important to drive location-based services.
  • Collaboration among retail customers will help drive sales.
  • Collaboration among retailers may allow real time sharing of customer information, buying habits and trends, based on participation and privacy agreements.
  • Integration with social media will continue to drive mobile use among consumers. Applications such as Facebook and Pheed, will continue to provide peer-influenced purchase recommendations. Younger users will rely heavily on these recommendations to make a purchase.

Military

  • Military use of mobile devices will increase exponentially with increased bandwidth. The ability to provide real time displays of troop and vehicle movement as well as the ability to control unmanned devices at a low cost will substantially increase mobile usage.

Law Enforcement and Public Safety

  • While law enforcement vehicles are equipped with notebooks, these devices are not often available while out of the vehicle. Mobile devices will provide real time voice recognition, fingerprint and identity checks, and DNA type matching for suspects and individuals without the need to return to the vehicle.
  •  Mobile devices will provide real time video, audio, and crime scene information including location and type of evidence including matching of blood samples, DNA, and firearms information linked to NCIS and similar databases.
  • Wireless devices will allow users to locate public resources such as shelters, and provide the information based on current conditions such as weather and road conditions, with the ability to specify safest routes to those locations.