Article by Guest Poster
This article was written by a guest contributor. The author’s views below are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of WHSR.
Sidenote by Jerry: At this point of writing, we are pretty sure the Cloud Computing technology is here to stay. But, is Cloud here to replace conventional IT solution (such as, a dedicated hosting server)? What might goes wrong with Cloud? Ron Woodall wrote this guest post in response to Nikko Marasigan’s recent “12 Reasons To Consider Cloud Computing For Your Business“. This article is very practical, very informative, and hence, very helpful for those who are are considering the “cloud-option”.
Let’s get started!
Image Credit: Leonrw on Flickr
In the world of computing and whenever you deal with a service provider, you still have to maintain your own hardware and infrastructure. That means that your machines, cabling, routing and even servers will have to be maintained and upgraded as hardware improves.
However, should the cloud provider upgrade the software, it is possible that his upgrade may not be compatible with your hardware. That means that you’ll have to upgrade your plant and equipment in order to use the updated software. Should you rent the plant and equipment from the cloud provider be prepared for a healthy monthly payment. He’s buying software licenses for decreasing prices based on volume. Hardware is a cash or lease deal and there’s a finite discount level that no one can go below, and he’s going to make a profit even on a minimum price. Figure you’ll pay full retail when all is said and done.
I run a simple network. I have a few hubs and a pair of redundant servers and I backup my data routinely. The larger the organization, the larger the copy of exactly the same thing. Worried about network security? Stay on top of your IT department. Think you need fewer people? Who’s providing support and to what degree? Figure your hardware security will require half the person years and software support the other half.
There’s a lot to be said for in house support – timeliness and a broad range of support from brains to screws. Do spot checks periodically and make sure your people are testing their philosophy in the lab every day. Don’t allow changes without thorough testing and a dog and pony demonstration. The dog and pony is critical. My experience is that no matter how robust, Finagle’s Law or Murphy’s Law will prevail. Besides, the life of a network administrator is like a soldier: 99.9% total boredom and 0.1% sheer unmitigated terror. You want to see proof that they’re ready for the terror – your employees or your cloud provider’s.
Do you think your cloud provider is going to be providing the kind of support that your organization needs? Figure word processing support won’t include assistance with automated document creation and archiving which is an application that runs with WordPerfect. Very few cloud providers will even know what it is let alone how it works. They will offer a document archiving system but you’ll have to adjust your filing systems to the program’s constraints and it doesn’t address document production, quality control and standardized look and feel.
Worried about data security? I hate to be a party pooper but there’s this thing out there called “the sniffer” which allows me or anyone else for that matter, to connect to an internet line and literally watch data go by. I can capture all of the data and selectively reconstruct information from one terminal or a block of terminals or a whole organization. Consider that between you and your cloud provider someone like me will have a sniffer. Encrypting your communications? No problem. Computers are getting more powerful every day. Security is already measured in terms of the amount of time it takes to decrypt a message.
I remember in the days of mini computers and centralized processing we used to complain that computer manufacturers had shares in coffee and tobacco companies. Delays got so bad that we could go for a smoke and come back just in time to catch the computer as it returned to normal. Figure that every device between you and your data is a potential point of failure. Considering that cloud computing is software and data combined – be prepared for blackouts. Don’t expect that your cloud provider is the only source of failure. Every piece of plant and equipment between you and him is a potential point of failure. What is your fallback in case of a black out? Don’t forget to document the blackouts and demand adjustments on the bill, and ultimately, penalties for any blackout.
When you purchase a piece of software you intend it to meet a specific purpose in your organization. You don’t need to change your software if your purpose doesn’t change. I purchased a copy of WordPerfect Suite 8. (WordPerfect Office X5 is the current version.) This has met my requirements exactly since I bought it. I never intended to create movies or write music or paint pictures on a computer. I still don’t. Consider most corporate users are just like me. There will be a few people who require special equipment but they’ll need it even if the cloud provider takes over.
The major selling point of cloud providers is to “reduce licensing and update costs” when in reality, most software doesn’t need updating. Accounting software – find one that works and stick with it. Don’t update unless there are major flaws. Word Processing – it doesn’t take the latest and greatest to write letters or documents. Specific function programs i.e. graphics programs for the art department – for 1 or 2 people in your organization and those licenses will always be expensive, from you or the cloud provider.
Ensured data compatibility. In days gone by, data generated with one program was seldom compatible with the data format of another program.
This was most prevalent in database programs and some spreadsheets. Accounting programs were a particular nightmare and potentially, still are. These differences, typically, were by design to ensure a captive clientele. Try converting a WordPerfect file to a Microsoft Word file. The characters may get across but don’t expect the format or structure to get across. Word is not that sophisticated.
There’s also the problem where the cloud provider won’t support your traditional software. You may end up having to use their’s. Who’s going to cover the conversion costs. Who’s going to train your staff on the new software? Is the new software as functional and cost effective as the old? If you have developed applications based on the old software, who’s going to covert those applications over to the new software?
Exercising data ownership could be a problem in the future. When your contract is up for renewal how much will they charge you to get your data back? What’s worse, try to ensure that he doesn’t retain a copy of your data and offer it out to the highest bidder. Will your cloud provider give you a period of grace to move your data off and onto your own hardware?
When that data comes back and you find that the integrity of the data is suspect, who’s going to pay to “clean up” the data and render it useful again? What if you expected the data to be in a totally usable format and it comes back comma-delimited or some impossible to convert format?
Remember, when you rent something, you’re giving someone permission to keep their hand permanently in your pocket. The longer it stays there, the harder it is to get rid of the leech. When the cloud provider decides to increase his prices and you’re stuck in the contract, do you have a ceiling on price increases based on a maximum amount over what period? Also, figure your contract to be iron clad – for the vendor. From the moment you sign on the dotted line, you are under his control. Then, try to move your data when the contract is complete. The bold print may be cost effective but what about the fine print? Remember, when you leased that car and when you returned it you paid a lot more than the original value of the car. Remember the distance penalties – so much you ended up having to buy a new car at a grossly inflated price?
So, the question remains open, what about confidentiality and security of your information from prying eyes or disgruntled employees of the cloud provider? When you introduce a layer into your organization and that layer is outside of your control, be prepared to have it come back and bite you.
So, the next consideration is availability. I carry around my data on ever smaller memory chips. Now, it’s a 16GB microSD chip. I can carry it in my wallet – well, actually I carry it in my camera case along with my old 8.1 megapixel camera and the chips that go into the camera. When I get around to purchasing the latest and greatest of cameras, I’ll have the appropriate memory chips do dual duty. Like many people I too have a portable, so me and my data and my computing power are never very far apart. Got too much data? I worked on an examination of data stored in a top secret storage facility. The most common “top secret” documents were grocery lists for things the wives wanted brought home at the end of the day. Vet your storage. Yup it costs but you’d be surprised at the garbage we “hoard”.
Here’s one of the worst conditions I’ve ever encountered. An organization signed a deal with a cloud provider without checking the fine print. It was found out later that the IT manager became a salesman for the cloud provider. The organization was expected to change its operating procedures and corporate culture to match the philosophy dictated by the provider. The provider even provided courses (at extra cost) to “teach” the employees to think the way the provider expected them to. The organization declared bankruptcy to get out from under the cloud provider.
Have you created a business that is successful with good short and medium term growth? When you give away control of your information, you’re giving someone less scrupulous than yourself the keys to your organization. Figure your numbers may start going down when all indications are that they’re going up. Someone might be fiddling with the numbers. A common source of bankruptcy is when the trusted accountant absconds with the funds. Make sure you keep an independent set of books.
Are these worse-case scenarios? Probably not. After all, I’m only talking from experience and I haven’t experienced everything. What I’m proposing is that you be prudent and cautious. An organization is created by someone wanting to get rich. Make sure it is not at your expense.
About the author: Ron Woodall
Ron is part of the third generation of computer users and the first generation of personal computer users. His generation created the internet. He is the author of the Compendium of HTML Elements. The Compendium documents the HyperText Markup Language from its early roots to recent standards. It also serves to test browsers and ensure that their implementation of an element is consistent with standards. It is interesting to note that it is easier to learn to code HTML than it is to learn the tools of cloud computing. HTML is also a minimalist vehicle requiring only a few tags to produce a personal website yet provides substantial richness to support some of the largest and most complex websites. HTML is also more efficient than server-side equivalents and only requires organization. The Compendium It is based on the premise of removing elitism and greed from website creation.