Private versus Public Cloud Computing
Larger companies and government agencies are likely to consider going to the cloud but in a much more controlled and secure fashion. This will be accomplished by using a private cloud.
A private cloud has all the benefits of a public cloud, but it is hosted inside the firewall of the company or department that it is supporting. Full control of who has access to data is maintained while all the benefits of the cloud are realized. End users simply buy their cloud services from the private cloud, and the private cloud treats the end users in the same way a cloud vendor treats its customers.
An institution would need to be fairly large to get benefits from this model. Smaller groups that do not want or cannot have their data leave their network can host virtualized environments that have many of the features of the cloud, although they would be missing certain benefits that a public cloud provides such as the sharing of expertise and access to scalable resources.
Which Cloud Vendors Will Rise to the Top?
The near-term future of the cloud includes the acceptance of large cloud providers that provide a full array of services. Today, Amazon provides great operating systems as a service, but it does not provide server support or managed services such as e-mail. Google provides some managed services such as e-mail, but it does not provide a good solution for operating systems as a service.
Currently, there is no major vendor offering a full variety of cloud-based services, and this is a key next step. Because there is no limit to providing a full set of cloud-based services, it is just a matter of time before someone leads the way.
Who will lead the cloud computing revolution has still not been determined, but the race is definitely on. The complete package may come from
- behemoths like Microsoft or IBM
- small startups that are more nimble and may grow fast to take the market
- telephone vendors like Verizon or British Telecom
- hosting providers like RackSpace
- Internet giants like Amazon (with Amazon Web Services) or Google
- the mobile computing world of Apple and RIM
Whoever secures this new market as a leader must provide full server and application management such as patching, compliance, backup and recovery, and disaster recovery for all the services they provide. Amazon Web Services and Google have the network and server base to host such an offering, but they lack the management software. Microsoft is working to be a player in this space with their Azure product and they have the software skills, but they have not yet built out either the management and platform software or the infrastructure. Other industry efforts are well on their way, and IBM's investment in Cloud Labs makes them another vendor to watch.
Another possible major cloud platform could be software vendors such as Salesforce.com who have a great vertical application and supporting platform that could scale into a full offering. All these items are monumental efforts, so it is more likely the cloud will break down into segments that give the market the choices it demands. Examples include Amazon for raw power and general platforms such as Web sites, wikis, and other services; vertical applications like Salesforce.com; and platforms like e-mail coming from Google or even Facebook. Thus, the end user will have many choices, but the end user will also have to choose their vendors carefully and account for things like multiple credentials and data that is stored at multiple vendor sites.
An important item to note here is that Microsoft servers become much less critical, because non-Microsoft platforms (like Linux) that once demanded a separate set of related expertise are now removed. Since end users just request and use a service, they do not need to be worried about the configuration and the management of non-Microsoft platforms, and this will greatly increase end-user choices and lower costs.
Yes, There Are Risks
The cloud, like any new technology, has significant risks that need to be understood, managed, and, in some cases, accepted. Risks include outages, security, and vendor underperformance to service level agreements (SLAs). Another risk is vendor lock of your data.
If you choose an outside cloud provider, there is a real risk of business failure by your cloud partner, and this will need to be managed contractually so that your data is secured. Choosing a cloud provider that has a well-known track record is one way to mitigate the risk; however, costs have a way of increasing when a vendor feels they have a lock on your business. This occurs when one provider dominates the market with little to no competition.
The Risks Are Worthwhile
In the end, the benefits of the cloud greatly outweigh the risks. Cloud providers will eliminate the need for dependence on IT departments, putting the end user and the business needs in the driver's seat. It is a paradigm shift in the world of the end-user computing revolution.
In the past, when dominant players in the field did not embrace and capitalize on changes in their industry, they soon found they did not exist. For example, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) did not capitalize on the PC revolution and soon was no longer a part of the industry landscape. We can expect the same to occur in today's computing landscape. Traditional IT providers will need to adopt the advantages of the cloud and become more end-user friendly if they are to survive the revolution.