Thoughts on enterprise IT

Dustin Amrhein

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Well, everyone knew it wouldn't be long before cloud computing got thrown under the proverbial bus after the latest Sidekick failure. Observers point at this specific failure, as they have with Gmail, Amazon, and other cloud provider outages in the past, as a broader problem. Some like to use these service outages as an opportunity to initiate a full-fledged attack on the idea of cloud computing. However, can we really just blame cloud computing and move on?

If cloud computing plays a part in the blame game for these outages, it's because of the hype around the industry. If the cloud is being portrayed as a magical bag of beans that can solve all IT ills then that is a problem. Companies need to take a hard look at the ever increasing cloud offerings to understand if and when they can leverage particular cloud technologies. Cloud computing should be viewed as something that can enhance, not necessarily replace, a company's current IT solutions. Potential users should understand that cloud isn't about simply turning your operations over to a service provider for hosting (the infamous "your mess for less" model). It's more about driving efficiencies into the way we procure, utilize, and manage services within IT. These efficiencies can mean savings in costs, increased agility, and intensified focus on the services and activities that a company derives its competitive advantage from.

These service outages, that some use as a platform from which to attack cloud computing, only reinforce the fact that cloud does not magically solve some of the more basic IT issues. Concerns that come with a solution built around distributed services hold true for most solutions that include or are wholly comprised of a cloud service. As an example, many of the cases where we hear about these "cloud failures" we are essentially dealing with cloud-based storage services. Companies looking to incorporate cloud-based storage would naturally want to ask questions such as:

  1. What is the data replication story? How many replicas are there and where are the replicas hosted with respect to the primary copies?
  2. Is failover automatically handled?
  3. How are spikes in volume handled?
  4. If the cloud service is off-premise, what are the options for copying data between the off-premise provider and an on-premise data center?

These are very basic questions, but important nonetheless, and it's just the tip of the iceberg. I just mean to illustrate that if a company utilizes a cloud service it doesn't mean these concerns simply disappear. 

The outages that get the most press are from providers that have no doubt done more than their due diligence with respect to designing and implementing a robust, fault-tolerant, stress-hardened cloud service. So what then does that say about cloud computing? Simply that some outages cannot be avoided, and this is nothing new to either the non-cloud or cloud world. Perhaps cloud criticism comes so quickly because unrealistic expectations have been set. If that's the case, it's time to remind ourselves that cloud computing can certainly help, but it's not a magic cure-all.

Potential cloud consumers should ignore vendor hype and set expectations based on a realistic understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the particular cloud services they look to adopt. Maybe then we can get past the cloud blame game every time there is a vendor outage. After all let's be realistic, these occasional outages, whether in a cloud or not, aren't going to totally disappear.

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Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.