Ours is a service economy. And a very popular one with most consumers. Regardless of our ability to do something ourselves, more often than not we jump at the chance to have someone do it for us. Whether it requires little training — managing our money, cooking our food — or a lot — fly us about in aeroplanes, diagnosing and treating disease — we tend to be fine with someone else taking the wheel. Fine, that is, until we start talking about the dreaded “D” word: Data.
For a growing number of people, allowing a remote provider to host our applications, storage and desktops “in the cloud” isn’t just another service to subscribe to, it’s downright foolish.
“One reason you should not use web applications to do your computing is that you lose control. It’s just as bad as using a proprietary program. Do your own computing on your own computer with your copy of a freedom-respecting program. If you use a proprietary program or somebody else’s web server, you’re defen[s]eless. You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software.” – Richard Stallman, Guardian News Interview
Defenseless? I disagree. Cloud Computing doesn’t remove control over your data, documents, or applications — it simply shifts their location and some of their care to a third party. What is so important about your physical proximity to your computing resources that makes Cloud Computing so unpalatable? Most often, the answer is control or the perceived lack of it.
By moving your applications, storage, or even desktop infrastructure to an external provider, you aren’t losing control but rather gaining more of it. Anyone who uses a hosted web or mail service knows that you have 100% control over the content without the worry of where it is and whether or not the service is available. Perhaps the best options to maintain your desired level of ownership and control is through Service Level Agreements (SLAs), Control Panels, and Administrative Tools — all provided to you by your hosting company.
Service Level Agreements SLAs give you leverage with your service provider. As a written contract between you and the provider, you maintain the same financial control over your assets as you would if those assets existed in your own Data Center. SLAs outline such services as backup and restore, regular maintenance, guaranteed uptime and availability of your applications and data.
Control Panels Control Panel availability and functionality varies from provider to provider but usually allow you to maintain your own Access Control Lists (ACLs), user accounts, host security, mailboxes, databases, and so on. Control Panels are centralized management applications for your specific leveraged infrastructure.
Administrative Tools These tools also vary widely but provide you, with site statistics such as space usage, bandwidth consumption, and website hit analyses. These tools often provide you with a better view into how your business performs since they aren’t skewed by availability, personnel issues, bandwidth limitations, or other factors affecting localized operations.
With any new idea, at first there is resistance, which for Cloud Computing translates into fear that some evil third party is anxiously lurking about on the Internet to steal your data. According to a recent IDC survey, almost 75% of their respondents stated that security is their primary concern when considering the shift to Cloud-based computing. Rounding out the top five issues preventing acceptance are performance, availability, integration with in-house IT, and not enough ability to customize.
Cloud Computing and Virtualization
Cloud Computing isn’t virtualization or vice versa but Cloud Computing creates an excellent platform for virtualization. Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), for example, is a Cloud Computing environment (as the name implies) built using Xen. Alternatively, Google bases its Cloud environment almost entirely upon physical hardware. Providers who create Cloud-based environments for public consumption, like Amazon’s EC2, will do so using virtualization due to its low cost, flexibility, and high performance.
Additional hindrances to Cloud Computing model are the rants of such high profile personalities like RMS above or Larry Ellison, Founder and CEO of Oracle, who thinks Cloud Computing is a “fad.”1 I beg to differ. I remember a time when the Internet received similar marketing hype as The Information Superhighway, demonic and a host of other negative labels. And least we forget, Linux was roundly dismissed a “niche” operating system not so very long ago. The years between then and now have demonstrated otherwise.
Today, my bet is that moving to the cloud isn’t something that is extremely pressing for you or your business. But some aspects of your computing environment are probably edging in that direction and, sooner or later, you will likely have to decide whether to start looking for silver linings or sticking with the expert’s gray skies.
And as for “defenseless?” Hardly. Just make sure your cloud has a built in umbrella and you’ll be fine.