The term “cloud computing” has become ubiquitous in the IT world. It has stretched out into the rest of the business world too, becoming one of the hottest buzzwords in recent memory. Some believe with a passion that all IT and data will ultimately reside in “the cloud.” Others take a more nuanced view.
At Real Story Group, our job is not to predict future business markets; rather it is to help you, the buyer and user of technology, to make good product decisions. In that light, we take the stance that cloud computing already plays a part in the selection of technology and in the planning of IT resources in many organizations. We also take the view that cloud computing is a poorly understood concept. Buyers who have a sound grasp not only of the nuts and bolts of cloud computing but also of its strengths and weaknesses will best be able to exploit this option within their organizations.
Cloud computing, as a term, has been overhyped to a degree not seen since the nonsense of the dot-com era. Nevertheless, beneath the hype there is value to be found. Just to balance the scales a little, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the case against the cloud.
It is widely assumed by buyers that cloud options are by definition cheaper than on-site alternatives. Indeed, it seems logical that shared services should be cheaper than dedicated services, but this is not always the case. Many cloud vendors are far from cheap, and we have witnessed multiple cases where cloud options that have made it to a customer’s shortlist have turned out, upon analysis, to be the most expensive option on the list. That being said, the theory is good much of the time, and cloud options, when one calculates the full cost of running on-site options, often do provide substantial savings. But a full 5-year cost analysis of cloud versus on-site options often turns out to be much closer in cost than many imagine.
Cost, however, is not the only concern to consider. Cloud computing provides, in theory, a system that is nearly failproof. Built into a multiple data center approach are concepts such as redundancy, backup, disaster recovery, and failover. Technical risk management techniques that can be difficult and expensive to implement in traditional situations come standard in the cloud model. Should a server fail or data be lost in a single box in the cloud, it will automatically be backed up and restored by the gridlike network that defines the cloud.
However, there are two sides to this coin. There is also an argument to be made that though such a model of computing removes the very concept of a single point of failure, it does so by replacing the single point of failure with multiple potential points of failure. Even simple errors or failures in the underlying network/grid can break the delivery mechanism to the end user. Of course on-site systems fail at times too, and the consequences of such a failure can be severe and can include data loss. Cloud computing resolves many of the reliability issues that other solutions often face, but it is not without issues of its own.
Cloud computing may be the future of enterprise content management—or will at least play a very prominent role in it—but as of today it is a nascent set of services that are not particularly well understood by either the service providers or those looking to use the services.
We are in a period where marketing hype has obscured key differences between various cloud options, differences that are quite distinct. As a buyer, you need to clarify in detail what it is that you are buying and be sure to challenge, at every stage, the sales patter that blithely describes the advantages of the cloud.
In some instances cloud computing will represent a viable and preferable option, but in others it could prove to be not only more costly but also more risky and therefore unsuitable to meet your specific needs. As of today, the cloud is an emerging option, with plenty of potential, but for content management in particular it has some unanswered and unaddressed issues to resolve before it graduates from hype to the mainstream.