by Laurianne McLaughlin

Cloud Computing: Reality Check From Early Adopters

Mar 05, 20084 mins
Data Center

Have you seen the IBM commercial where employees listening to an executive make a speech play “buzzword bingo”? It wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. And the biggest buzzword in technology right now is “the cloud.” Every vendor wants to tell me how they’re in the cloud, how they “get” the cloud, and above all, how the cloud is going to make IT’s life so much easier. The newest high-profile entrant into this game of buzzword bingo is Microsoft, with its announcement earlier this week that it will begin to offer up some of its traditional programs and services via the Internet later this year, in a hosted model. You know, via the cloud.

As I’ve noted before, the cloud is not new. The cloud is the Internet. Salesforce and the other companies who have convinced corporate IT departments to use Software as a Service already know plenty about the cloud. True, new technology jobs will move into the cloud. For example, IBM wants to help customers analyze and mash up huge data sets on the fly in the cloud. But make no mistake, it is Google that is forcing Microsoft to play this game, a scary game that impacts the sacred Microsoft ground of on-premise applications and all the server software needed to support them.

At every CIO conference I attend, I meet lots of CIOs who tell me the same thing: If I could get out from under these Microsoft Office licenses, believe me, I would. I can’t wait for Google to show me that they understand the application security that I need.

So now Microsoft will jump in and offer these customers its own hosted apps, to compete with Google. However, I believe it’s a real possibility that this Microsoft offering could fall flat on its face. Why? In order for it to succeed, Microsoft will have to make the pricing quite attractive, and just as importantly, make administration and security chores beautifully simple. Do these three key points sound like tasks that the Microsoft we have all known for years will execute well? Look at their ongoing struggles with Vista. Enough said.

Meanwhile, as you’ll need to continue to explain to colleagues inside and outside of IT that you “get” the cloud, we’ll continue to do articles that will help. See our new look at experiences from early adopters of cloud services, “Cloud Computing: Tales From the Front.” Make no mistake, buzzword-lovers and hype-spreaders: CIOs such as Doug Menefee, CIO of Schumacher Group, a Lafayette, Louisiana-based company that staffs emergency rooms for hospitals, have their feet on the ground when it comes to the cloud.

As Menefee told the story’s author, Bill Snyder, running some of Schumacher’s applications outside the datacenter solves some problems. He combined a custom application with a CRM application to handle thousands of contracts among his company, hospitals and doctors. As the story notes: “Those moves, which involved about half of the company’s IT infrastructure, avoided the expense of his hiring an additional three to five full-time IT staffers, at a cost of $40,000 to $80,000 a year, plus a large outlay for additional hardware.”

But, he says, his datacenter won’t disappear entirely into the cloud. He has application latency and security concerns, plus a legacy billing system that’s definitely not a fit for the cloud.

Maybe you’re wondering, is he really in “the cloud”? “There’s a lot of gray area around that term (cloud computing),” Menefee says. “But for me, the idea of us using an infrastructure that isn’t our own, that is managed outside makes it a cloud. But I’m not looking to be part of a trend. I find a problem and look for a solution.”

Bingo. Veteran CIOs like Menefee will selectively tap into the cloud, but won’t be fooled by buzz.