Not all cloud nine

There are still a number of fallacies around the concept of cloud computing.

Read time 4min 20sec

When it comes to cloud computing, there are almost as many definitions as there are viewpoints on it. For some, it equates to a hosting environment, while others feel it is all about virtualisation. So, why are misconceptions still rife?

In the purest sense, the cloud gives a company the ability to immediately provision hundreds of servers according to their need. This 'burstability' gives the cloud the speed and flexibility that companies of all sizes across industries require in a fast-moving and competitive market. The IT challenges today are different from a few years ago.

For one, increased legislative requirements mean governance is intricately linked to any technology implementation. This means decision-makers need to more carefully consider technology strategies before going with the latest and greatest trends, as the impact on the business could be significant.

Hosts in cloudy clothing

This is especially true when considering a cloud implementation. Many companies are positioning themselves as cloud providers, yet in reality they offer just a hosting environment. Such an environment is one that is hosted by the service provider. In other words, the company will have direct network access to the servers (and services) it has contracted for. A cloud environment has the ability to scale in real-time as company needs change.

Another common misconception is that the terms virtualisation and cloud are often used interchangeably, yet virtualisation is the software that powers the cloud. This makes it possible to run different platforms and applications on the same server at the same time. Cloud is the packaged service that encapsulates virtualisation.

Further confusing matters is the difference between private and public clouds. The public cloud is when a company uses a service like Amazon and pays for the resources as they are used. The private cloud is when a business owns or leases the hardware and software that provide the environment.

There are still many concerns when it comes to relying on public cloud service providers for highly sensitive corporate data. The National Security Agency is perhaps the best recent example of the risks associated with putting information on the public cloud. Decision-makers, and even consumers, are questioning whether their data is safe on public solutions.

Ignorance is not bliss

Companies and small business owners need to understand the implications of the cloud and what it means for their data. They need to understand the risks and make an informed decision between cost-effectiveness and convenience versus the possibility that getting data back from the provider might not be an easy process.

Cloud is the packaged service that encapsulates virtualisation.

After all, it is all well and good to have import tools making it easy to transfer data to the cloud provider, but what are the export tools available should the company choose to migrate to a different service provider? Also, what guarantee does the business owner have that the information is scrubbed from the data centre when the contract ends.

The consumerisation of technology has become one of the biggest challenges when it comes to the cloud. Employees can get their own e-mail, storage, and other solutions at the click of a button. In the past, IT departments might have taken a relatively long time to roll-out these solutions to employees. Today, a company has to compete with the likes of Google and Amazon when it comes to their internal IT offerings. As consumers have become more aware of cloud solutions, so they have bypassed the IT departments of their companies for solutions.

However, the problem around this approach is obvious. Who is signing off on the process and does that person - or department - even understand the impact on corporate security? There need to be checks and balances in place. If the marketing manager approves for his or her department to run in a collaborative cloud environment without consulting with IT, then the implications could be potentially damaging for the company. This is akin to the IT department designing and publishing an advertisement in a magazine without going to the marketing department first.

In a corporate environment, everything revolves around policies. But with technology becoming so elastic, it has turned into a commodity. The cloud gives a person the ability to easily access technology, but who is busy checking whether all the other aspects are in place to protect the company.

One thing is certain - as awareness increases, the next 12 months will see an upsurge in SA for genuine cloud providers. Let's just hope companies are doing enough to educate themselves and their employees around the risks and rewards of going the cloud route.

Muggie van Staden
MD of Obsidian Systems.

Muggie van Staden has been at the helm of open source solutions company Obsidian Systems for 15 years. Leveraging the Linux open source way as a driving force, Van Staden has embedded a culture of innovation, relevance, dedication and collaboration in this niche software house. As an engineer, Van Staden's nature is to solve problems in unique and effective ways. As MD, he has overseen the growth in the company in both services on offer and revenue. Outside of work, Van Staden is a devoted family man and geek at heart.

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