Demystifying Cloud Computing

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This is giving an unparalleled boost to Microsoft's cloud initiatives. "With our online suite of offerings, we are currently talking about online versions of our Exchange, SharePoint and Unified Communications stacks of software. Going forward, most apps will slowly start to have services-component built in. This will give more choices to enterprises in their decisions to consume software. Whether they want to have full control or if they would like to consume software as a service. Or may be, they would like to choose a hybrid model, where certain elements will be deployed locally and the rest is hosted on a cloud environment. We have, for example, MS Exchange online, which has shared APIs and configurability built across to be deployed as a service to enterprises. Going forward, we will have our CRM enabled for online computing," says Gulati.

Are the Clouds Ready?

"For a service to be ready for enterprises to consume, it must pass from the early-adopter phase (few enterprises using it with most deployments being experimental and used in non-business critical projects) to early majority, says Staten. "Evidence of being at this stage comes from a sufficient volume of direct enterprise customer references using the service for business-critical purposes. We were not able to verify enough customer references (even off the record) to conclude that cloud computing has crossed over from early adopter to early majority. However, platforms are maturing and will start to better meet enterprise needs in the next two to three years."

As appealing as the cloud concept sounds, it isn't on the radar of most enterprise IT shops. An informal survey of the Forrester Leadership Board of Infrastructure & Operations professionals on interest in, or use of, clouds yielded a resounding silence. The reasons are:

-- Concerns about stability. Most cloud vendors today do not provide availability assurances. Service-level agreements (SLAs) are mostly non-existent.

-- Few big-name players offering clouds. Apart from Amazon Web Services, Salesforce.com, and Akamai -- and rumors that Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! entering this space -- there's no sign of the biggies. But until they enter, enterprise IT is likely to stay away.

-- Few enterprise reference accounts. Despite repeated requests to vendors and efforts by Forrester, few enterprises could be found or were willing to identify themselves as cloud users. Lack of references will hold back adoption.

-- Little geographic locality. With the exception of Akamai and Layered Technologies, no cloud vendors will place your app in a specific geography. In fact, most don't have geographic coverage. Amazon EC2 does, but won't tell you where your app is located, nor can you request a specific geography today.

-- Not very enterprise friendly. Most cloud offerings aren't easy for enterprises to consume. Most don't allow embedding security and management agents and monitors. Amazon EC2 is not Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards-compliant, which is a problem. And few vendors provide security or process compliance audits.

Nevertheless, analysts and industry experts feel that cloud computing shows tremendous promise and once initial issues are ironed out, the new infrastructure services delivery model is going to catch on. "For small Indian startups or enterprises that do not have huge capacity requirements, cloud computing can offer an effective way to leverage computing capabilities at a low cost," says Dhavse.

"There are no cloud vendors in India that I am aware of. If the ISPs here are interested in providing cloud services, it is a good fit because the economic model will empower many small businesses in India. India will probably bypass SaaS. It makes more sense to create one large network in India and have thousands of apps take advantage of it, rather than building networks for individual apps," says Staten.

"Going forward, when the game shifts towards enterprises, the degree of control and degree of compliance will vary. People will then be interested in plugging out existing apps, virtualizing them and putting them on clouds. Folks who can stitch the two aspects together of managing enterprises better by bringing in more offerings and virtualizing their existing apps to be able to run on a cloud, will do better in the future," states Gulati.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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