What is “The Cloud?”

There is so much being written about “cloud computing” these days and businesses are being told to “go cloud” because it’s the future and you need to accept it. But what are the down sides? Is “cloud” the “silver bullet” that is is promoted as being? Read on and find out my thoughts on the subject.

1. We can’t agree what “cloud” actually means.
The first “problem” is that no-one can agree on what “cloud” actually means. The definitions that I’ve seen range from a very detailed specification mentioning distributed processing as well as on-demand resource allocation, among other things, to basically anything not in the same building! This is not helpful because it makes a complete mockery of being able to compare different offerings and make meaningful comparisons. For instance, does a web application hosted on a web server somewhere in Central America count as “in the cloud”? By some definitions yes, others no. Do you see the dilemma? Do the “cloud” sales people make this clear? That’s before we get started on “public clouds”, “private clouds” and “hybrid clouds”…

2. Eventually it will be the overriding target of criminals.
When computer viruses (malware) first came to prominence, they were distributed on floppy disks (remember those?) which, when booted from would come up with bizarre text such as “Your computer is stoned!!!” and so on. Pretty soon they got more sophisticated and malicious, deleting files, formatting drives or emailing everyone in your contacts list. One thing has been consistent though; they (the malware creators) have always gone after the biggest and most profitable (not to mention easiest) targets. Hence more malware targeting Windows PCs and lots targeting social media sites and popular software, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader (almost guaranteed to be installed on virtually every PC). Now, with businesses being whipped into a frenzy to join the “cloud” revolution, a new threat is almost certain to arise.
Enter the “hacker” armed with nothing more than a few cutting tools to slice through the data connections to a large datacentre or to tamper with the power supply or air conditioning systems. Now, instead of disrupting one company they can disrupt hundreds of companies! Better still, recruit an accomplice to join the team looking after the datacentre and work from the inside. Same result. Of course, this has all been thought about and planned for – or has it? How do you know when you sign up??

3. The Weakest Link
Far more likely than the scenario above, however, is simply the human factor. We all know that the weakest link in any system are the humans and humans run (and design) datacentres packed with servers running “cloud” systems for many companies. Now an employee’s “dumb mistake” or a chain of minor mistakes could take out not one but hundreds (or thousands) of business IT systems!

4. Availability. Who you gonna’ hassle??
When the server in your office grinds to a halt or spontaneously combusts, you call your IT helpdesk (internal or external) and get them to fix it. If they’re a bit slow off the mark, you can use your “charm” to give them a not-so-gentle reminder of how you pay their wages (directly or indirectly) and get the job done faster. Not so with “cloud”. First of all, you’ll be calling a generic toll-free (if you’re lucky) number which redirects to somewhere far away and speaking with someone who, in all probability, doesn’t know who you or your company is. You’ll be given a reference number and be told “I’ll pass it on to the next level of support”. That’s about it. No amount of screaming, shouting, bribery or coercion will get the job done any faster, no matter how big or small it is or how important you think your company is! I’m afraid that when the “cloud” goes off, it’s “hurry up and wait”!

5. How does one change “cloud” providers?
One thing that I’ve never seen addressed is this. How does one change from one “cloud” provider to another? You’ve got your email, complete with an archive, with one provider and a “better” one comes along (see first paragraph as to why I put quotes around “better”). Do you think the current provider will just offer to copy everything over to the new provider? I don’t think so! Same with “cloud” backups and all manner of “cloud” apps. Put it in the “too hard” basket and carry on wondering if the grass really is greener over the fence!

6. The problem with “cloud” backups.
It’s all very well if you’re the only one trying to restore your entire business data after an emergency but what if 100 or 1000 businesses are all trying to restore simultaneously? Say no more!

7. A shift in the balance of power.
If you have a dispute with any other provider you can usually work around it. Power? Telecommunications? Landlord? Easy! Move somewhere else until the dispute is settled ’cause your business runs “from the cloud” remember! But what about the “cloud” provider? You guessed it; they have the power to turn off your entire business! No access to apps, email, storage … nothing. But it won’t ever get to that, will it? Will it?

Disclaimer: This article is not designed to be “anti cloud”; I may even post a seemingly contradictory article in the near future. It is designed to provide balance to the “information” provided by the “cloud zealots” that “the cloud” is the answer to life, the Universe and everything!

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