Many entrepreneurs today have their heads in the clouds. They’re either outsourcing most of their network infrastructure to a provider such as Amazon Web Services or are building out such infrastructures to capitalize on the incredible momentum around cloud computing. I have no doubt that this is The Next Big Thing in computing, but sometimes I get a little tired of the noise. Cloud computing could become as ubiquitous as personal computing, networked campuses or other big innovations in the way we work, but it’s not there yet.
Because as important as cloud computing is for startups and random one-off projects at big companies, it still has a long way to go before it can prove its chops. So let’s turn down the noise level and add a dose of reality. Here are 10 reasons enterprises aren’t ready to trust the cloud. Startups and SMBs should pay attention to this as well.
- It’s not secure. We live in an age in which 41 percent of companies employ someone to read their workers’ email. Certain companies and industries have to maintain strict watch on their data at all times, either because they’re regulated by laws such as HIPAA, Gramm-Leach Bliley Act or because they’re super paranoid, which means sending that data outside company firewalls isn’t going to happen.
- It can’t be logged. Tied closely to fears of security are fears that putting certain data in the cloud makes it hard to log for compliance purposes. While there are currently some technical ways around this, and undoubtedly startups out there waiting to launch their own products that make it possible to log “conversations” between virtualized servers sitting in the cloud, it’s still early days.
- It’s not platform agnostic. Most clouds force participants to rely on a single platform or host only one type of product. Amazon Web Services is built on the LAMP stack, Google Apps Engine locks users into proprietary formats, and Windows lovers out there have GoGrid for supporting computing offered by the ServePath guys. If you need to support multiple platforms, as most enterprises do, then you’re looking at multiple clouds. That can be a nightmare to manage.
- Reliability is still an issue. Earlier this year Amazon’s S3 service went down, and while the entire system may not crash, Mosso experiences “rolling brownouts” of some services that can effect users. Even inside an enterprise, data centers or servers go down, but generally the communication around such outages is better and in many cases, fail-over options exist. Amazon is taking steps toward providing (pricey) information and support, but it’s far more comforting to have a company-paid IT guy on which to rely.
- Portability isn’t seamless. As all-encompassing as it may seem, the so-called “cloud” is in fact made of up several clouds, and getting your data from one to another isn’t as easy as IT managers would like. This ties to platform issues, which can leave data in a format that few or no other cloud accepts, and also reflects the bandwidth costs associated with moving data from one cloud to another.
- It’s not environmentally sustainable. As a recent article in The Economist pointed out, the emergence of cloud computing isn’t as ethereal as is might seem. The computers are still sucking down megawatts of power at an ever-increasing rate, and not all clouds are built to the best energy-efficiency standards. Moving data center operations to the cloud and off corporate balance sheets is kind of like chucking your garbage into a landfill rather than your yard. The problem is still there but you no longer have to look at it. A company still pay for the poor energy efficiency, but if we assume that corporations are going to try to be more accountable with regard to their environmental impact, controlling IT’s energy efficiency is important.
- Cloud computing still has to exist on physical servers. As nebulous as cloud computing seems, the data still resides on servers around the world, and the physical location of those servers is important under many nation’s laws. For example, Canada is concerned about its public sector projects being hosted on U.S.-based servers because under the U.S. Patriot Act, it could be accessed by the U.S. government.
- The need for speed still reigns at some firms. Putting data in the cloud means accepting the latency inherent in transmitting data across the country and the wait as corporate users ping the cloud and wait for a response. Ways around this problem exist with offline syncing, such as what Microsoft Live Mesh offers, but it’s still a roadblock to wider adoption.
- Large companies already have an internal cloud. Many big firms have internal IT shops that act as a cloud to the multiple divisions under the corporate umbrella. Not only do these internal shops have the benefit of being within company firewalls, but they generally work hard — from a cost perspective — to stay competitive with outside cloud resources, making the case for sending computing to the cloud weak.
- Bureaucracy will cause the transition to take longer than building replacement housing in New Orleans. Big companies are conservative, and transitions in computing can take years to implement. A good example is the challenge HP faced when trying to consolidate its data center operations. Employees were using over 6,000 applications and many resisted streamlining of any sort. Plus, internal IT managers may fight the outsourcing of their livelihoods to the cloud, using the reasons listed above.
Cloud computing will be big, both in and outside of the enterprise, but being aware of the challenges will help technology providers think of ways around the problems, and let cloud providers know what they’re up against.