Cloud Services: A Contrarian’s Point of View

By Yogesh Kumar Verma (Profile)
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Friday, September 21st 2012
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Cloud computing services are enjoying the limelight these days as numerous IT infrastructure and data center management companies move in this direction. And while the cloud is a great concept, somebody needs to play devil’s advocate.

Cloud computing is, in simplistic terms, the idea that you can off-load your data storage and processing tasks to a very large set of computers, typically maintained by some large company such as Amazon. The novelty is that you abstract where the data is stored and which machine does the processing. Interestingly none of this is really new, even conceptually as the ‘grid folks’ have been pushing the 'compute-anywhere' vision for years. Some of the key, unresolved issues, include:

Data Security

Sun, when it was Sun, claimed that they’d get rid of all their data centers by 2015, but interestingly they were moving into an open source world where data security may not have been a major issue for them. Calling it ‘cloud’ isn’t solving the issues that limit the growth of the grid. Data is valuable ­– companies need to control where it is stored and who gets access. Proprietary algorithms being executed can be extremely valuable and are trade secrets in many industries.

Cloud Portability

It can take weeks or months to move a petabyte of data from one cloud to another, depending on data transfer speeds, not to mention transfer fees. Why would you ever do it? There are many reasons IT organizations might want to migrate: dissatisfaction with a cloud service provider, better alternatives, and changes in business or technology strategy, to name a few. Any way you look at it, moving data is slow and expensive. The trend isn't for this to improve (data sets are doubling annually in many industries while CPU cycles are cheap, and getting cheaper.

Uptime

This is almost a non-issue today but once in a while it can completely shut down your business for a few hours, sometimes in peak time. For e.g. On June 30, 2012 Netflix and Instagram were down amid Amazon’s web services outage.

Loss of Control

There is basically no insight into contingency procedures, especially backup, restore and disaster recovery. The cloud service is a black box and users are tied to the online documentation explaining its’ procedures, not to mention that you are tied to the financial health of the cloud provider.

In a May 2012 report, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) noted 23 “open issues” regarding cloud computing, including computing performance, cloud reliability, economic goals, compliance and information security.

Offline Data Synchronization

Networking issues are common in organizations; we all face it once in a while. When this happens, the data won’t synchronize with versions in cloud and hence leads to versioning issues and chaos in group collaboration.

Sharing is Not Always Good

There are several information security issues that remain open with the cloud, but the sharing of resources is a top concern. "For Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) clouds, different VMs may share hardware via a hypervisor; for Platform as a Service (PaaS), different processes may share an operating system and supporting data and networking services; for Software as a Service (SaaS), different consumers may share the same application or database," says the publication.