Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Cloud Computing

I went along to a cloud computing seminar last week to see what the fuss was all about.

CloudcomputingCloud computing is a term bandied about a lot in recent times and I really didn't fully understand what it was. When NetSuite put on a free seminar, that is to say; "a free sales pitch", I took the opportunity to go along and learn more about it.

I'm not putting down a supplier who would put on such a seminar, in fact I applaud it. It is a good way to learn the different technologies. However as in all such cases, we must weigh what we learn knowing that a fair bit of sales pitch comes along with the facts. This case was no exception to that rule.

So what's all the fuss about cloud computing? Well, it turns out not much at all … and a whole lot, it depends on your perspective.
Cloud computing is the name given to the industry springing up around hosting applications and data on the Internet (the cloud). The idea is that it allows a company to get away with just having the laptop or desktop PCs with no need for servers or the infrastructure normally required to support them. All email, scheduling, accounting and all other company software will be a matter of simply accessing the Internet.

Gmail is a good example of Cloud Computing where the small business can leave all their email details up to Gmail. No in house mail servers; everyone is automatically using the latest software; no backup issues; and no need for an administrator to keep it all protected and current.

The seminar hosted a few guest speakers who had moved all their corporate accounting to the Cloud (by sheer coincidence, NetSuite products - who would have known). It was interesting hearing first hand how they were able to make the change. I was especially interested to hear one company who had international offices and international currency issues and yet still made a successful change to Cloud Computing.

The only part of the evening that really annoyed me was hearing  Zach Nelson, CEO of NetSuite repeat often his favourite saying "why would anyone want to use applications designed before the Internet?". Zach repeated this several times and was obviously very proud of this saying but all it did for me was succeeded in getting my goat. Often applications are not built on the Cloud because of serious reasons. They may be very forward thinking applications that have some serious non-Internet uses. To me Zach Nelson's unfortunate comment displayed his ignorance of the wider business requirements and showed a very narrow view of the world. I will taper this a little though as his view as a Cloud Computing supplier with server based corporate software as his competition, he will naturally be narrow in his outlook.

There are no doubts in my mind that Cloud Computing will have a large future and it will be interesting to watch how fast the take-up will happen.

13 comments:

  1. People should look at the recent Sidekick data-loss (Microsoft/Danger) disaster long and hard before they jump to cloud computing for business-critical functions like accounting.

    Warren

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  2. Personally, I am all for nominating "cloud computing" as the most meaningless tech marketing term of the decade.

    If it involves the internet, it is somehow cloud computing.

    Which makes Gopher, FTP and the Web vanguards of the whole cloud computing scenario. Except, apparently when the servers are run from inside your company network.

    Oh wait, they had a word for that already - the internet.

    As for hosting your vital database services remotely - they have a word for that as well.

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  3. "why would anyone want to use applications designed before the Internet?".

    Maybe because their look and feel in unique on serveral operating systems ... especially groupware and sales force related stuff (CRM,...) suffer a lot form native implementation of the 90s ... that's legacy stuff if not on the Web.

    What is confusing with the term cloud is that also ISAS and SAAS are mixed up with this term.

    Less hosted application are "cloud" by default.

    All these terms belong to together and one cannot simply decouple these aspects of a system. A cloud for me should at least provide a development environement as integral part of a system or at least a central point for service registry and standadized "business logic". Hosted Technology Stack + Business Core ...

    Anything else is hosting ...

    Just to think, there is a stament of a director, cannot remember exactly, there is a need of 5 computers in the world ... an I'm very sure there is a need for 5 clouds in the world:-)))).

    Mike

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  4. Every time I hear people talking about how wonderful cloud computing is going to be, I'm reminded of the phrase "head in the clouds."

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  5. Some great thoughts on Cloud computing.
    I understand that having your data on the Cloud (alright, "the Internet", "cloud" is just easier to type and it sounds better) holds some element of risk. However, I'd balance that on the risk of having all your data on your internal servers and the whole structure of support people, physical space, airtight and security enabled room, reliance on backups, reliance on already overworked staff to update security every day and ensure that everything runs smoothly.
    Balanced that way, I'd think that having your data on the Cloud is a relatively small risk.
    A lot of companies already have their information on the Cloud. How many use Gmail for their company mail? I know that I do and some others that I know. I also know that many people use such applications as SalesForce.com for their company CRM needs.
    Having your international company use an accounting program on the Cloud changes little in the way they access the information, after all, all offices should normally access that application on your servers, why not on the Cloud?
    While I agree it's not for everyone, and more importantly not every application should be placed on the Cloud, but it where it shows up as reasonable, then it will happen.

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  6. I had a long post listing the risks involved with leaving your data in the hands of others.

    But I will let the track record of data loss and security breaches from groups like GMail and HotMail speak for themselves.

    Consider it seriously and then decide how much of your business you want to put in the hands of strangers.

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  7. "Gmail is a good example of Cloud Computing where the small business can leave all their email details up to Gmail."

    I have a friend that loves all these online services. I simply cannot get him to understand the business model is to get access to personal data, and to PLEASE NOT TO PUT MY E-MAIL ADDRESS ON THESE DAMN WEBSITES!

    Its a new generation of naive internet users that is driving this sort of thing forward. Scary.

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  8. IMHO all this hype about clouds comes from an old misconception: that IT is an expensive add-on to business. Thereby its cost must be minimized, and outsourcing it like you do with cleaners looks a good thing. They don't realize in many business today IT is core, and the real backbone. From a pure cost perspective, the cloud is appealing. But it has many hidden risks. You put all company vital data in someone else hands. Of course it will offer you SLAs and so on, but no matter how you have very little control over your data management. Most of the issue with internal IT is due to poor management and little consideration of IT people and tasks - sometimes you're really barely above cleaners, because you don't make money, you spend them! :)
    And like finance, clouds diluite the sysadmin risks. If your sysadmins lose yor data, you can fire it. If a cloud sysadmin lose your data but not those of 1000 other customers, his employer may not be so worried, especially if you're a small customer.
    Another driver is the appeal of upgrades is much smaller today - some softare can work for many years before really needing replacement. They have to move customers to a subscription based model to generate steady cash flows, that upgrades no longer warrant.

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  9. To Anonymous: Ha ha, now you're just pulling my chain. You'd be a happy one at parties wouldn't you?

    to LDS: You certainly have a point there. I have been in such an environment whereby the software department is the only department in the corporate that has to charge another department before any programmer is allowed to touch the code. Meaning that we couldn't even fix a bug unless we get another department to hand over a little of it's annual budget to get the application fixed - and we were also the only department NOT to have an annul budget. A happy place to work! I bet Anonymous worked there, I'm sure I've seen that name before :o)

    Yes, a lot of misunderstanding does occur, but (as clearly shown by our friend Anonymous) a lot of misunderstanding goes towards Cloud Computing too.

    While Cloud Computing is not for everyone, and certainly not for every application, there is a use for it and I'm predicting, a very large future.

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  10. I think you underestimate the problem.

    I have had a well-known Delphi podcaster invite me to participate by putting my e-mail address in LinkedIn which then sent me reminders at regular intervals. And this despite the fact that his blog states clearly that e-mail addresses would not be published.

    Silverlight, iTunes and any application that you and I write that communicates over the internet is yet another source security holes.

    We programmers only see the advantages. Criminals and miscreants are ingenious and misuse these in ways we could never imagine.

    For example, I get daily appointment reminders from Google Calendar which contain spam. Some spammer set up an account in my name! And it is impossible to get hold of a human at Google to get them to turn it off.

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  11. Gidday Anonymous,

    I don't necessarily go along with your email fears, but perhaps you do bring up a point worth considering in the wider context. I've certainly been concerned at the facebook phenomonen and some other like-technologies for various reasons.

    I'd let those thoughts stew for a week or two and perhaps look into the subject on a future blog.

    Thanks.

    Steve

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  12. "why would anyone want to use applications designed before the Internet?".

    It's a comment like that which strongly suggests the guy was born yesterday; or is profoundly ignorant; or is a shyster. I think back over the 20 years of PC/Mac apps I've seen and I can think of many apps that would be a useless joke if attempted on "the cloud". The term 90% marketing, 10% ideology.

    SteveG

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  13. To the poster "Web Solutions": I'm afraid I don't understand your comment and have removed it as spam. Please contact me if the post was genuine.

    Steve

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