With the explosion of information regarding cloud computing, a lot of people think that everybody knows more than they want to about the technology. Yet according to many IT solution providers who are working with customers to help them transition to the cloud, the biggest issue holding them back is a lack of understanding about what exactly is cloud computing.
"Not understanding the cloud is holding them back," said Connie Arentson, president of Heartland Technology Solutions. "The fact is they've got their infrastructure in-house with all their data on it. There's a security in knowing where it's at and having it there."
Arentson believes her customers will start really considering cloud computing when their existing, on-premises hardware gets to the end of its life and needs replacement.
Greg Onoprijenko, president of e-ternity Business Continuity Consultants, agrees.
"Education is always a big one, because people in general are still trying to wrap themselves up on cloud," said Onoprijenko. "They don't know what they don't know, so we're spending a lot of time educating customers on just exactly what it means because there's still a lot of confusion around what cloud is."
Onoprijenko believes the best way to overcome the lack of customer education about cloud computing is to show them case studies of similar companies and IT departments that benefited from the transition to a cloud infrastructure.
Jason Bystrak, director of Cloud Services at Ingram Micro, suggests that users' cloud confusion has been fueled by those who are trying to sell it to them.
"There's some murkiness around cloud as far as -what is cloud,' because it seems that everyone who deals in IT seems to want to throw the cloud label on it," Bystrak said. "We have mice vendors that call themselves cloud vendors. It really stems from marketing."
The results of insufficient cloud education are a natural distrust of the unknown, and a natural resistance to change from a model that has worked to one that is unproven, even if it holds the promise of cost savings and more efficiency.
"The obstacles to the cloud-what's slowing people down-is for people to learn and take comfort that you can move select systems to the cloud without a major disruption to your business or your end users and to feel comfortable with the learning curve that their data is safe, secure and stable," said CloudStrategies CEO Pete Zarras.
Zarras believes that cloud adoption will accelerate as users learn enough about the security and reliability of cloud-based services that they stop focusing on the technology and come back to putting their concentration into the business objectives they seek to achieve.
"It's a timing thing, to evaluate the cloud in the context of core business solutions, drivers and initiatives," Zarras said. "It's not just the cloud for the cloud's sake. It's how the cloud figures in the rhythm of other business events. You have business or technical objectives to meet, and cloud is a clean and effective path to achieve them."
Right now, it's the concern about security and what happens to data in the cloud that's the biggest drawback for many enterprises. However, some see a silver lining.
"When we start to actually peel back the onion on security, it's more perception than reality," Ingram Micro's Bystrak said. "From an IT security perspective, first of all, most of the cloud providers have better security practices and policies than most of the end clients. From a physical security perspective these providers' data centers are cutting edge."
Other concerns cited include the dependence upon Internet access that results from obtaining all services from the cloud. Providers are trying to address this by proposing and installing multiple Internet access services from multiple carriers and bonding them to deliver even higher service under normal conditions.
Should one carrier's service be interrupted, the network fails over to the other.
Another underlying concern surrounds ownership, responsibility and indemnification for loss or damage to customer data. Despite numerous recent reports of customer data being stolen or otherwise compromised, there is still very little case law to provide precedent regarding who actually owns the data and who owns what responsibility for the data. Questions are raised, such as, "what happens if the customer stops paying for the cloud service? Is the cloud provider still beholden to provide access to the customer's data? What is a customer's recourse if someone steals their data from a cloud provider's storage?"
It may be that the one thing that keeps the cloud so cloudy is the use of the cloud metaphor itself.
What everyone refers to as "cloud" computing is simply an alternative way to deliver IT services. There's nothing mysterious about it. Instead of the user's premises, the servers and the storage are all located in a data center that is operated by a company that does nothing else but manage that data center. Users can focus on doing what they do for their business and leave the IT to someone else.
That might provide the silver lining more companies need to adopt the technology.