So What Do You Really Know About the Cloud, Anyway?

Image Attribution: flickr

Depending on the person you ask what is the cloud, you may get startlingly different answers. Although cloud computing has now pervaded many professional organizations and enterprises, as recently as 2013 a survey of Americans found the following:

  • 29% thought that the cloud in cloud computing was a real cloud. As in backing up your data to that cumulonimbus currently sailing by in the sky.
  • 51% thought stormy weather could affect cloud computing. To be fair, lighting strikes are still a hazard for any data center power supplies or networking with insufficient protection.
  • 22% pretended to know what the cloud was when conducting daily conversation. This happened mostly at work apparently. Does that mean more honesty at home, or more indifference?
  • 17% pretended to be knowledgeable about the cloud on a first date.
  • And just 16% really knew what the cloud was.

Two years or so afterwards, has general cloud awareness changed? Hopefully, the percentages above have changed for the better, with less people pretending or trying to wing it! But even in business circles where the cloud is in daily use, some misconceptions seem hard to eradicate.

  • I dont use the cloud. This statement is becoming more and more unlikely. For instance, if you use Googles Gmail, youre using the cloud.
  • The cloud is insecure. In absolute terms, youre always safer when you never, ever let your data leave your site. However, cloud providers are often much better at security than their customers. In fact, the quickest way for many to get a real security improvement is to move to the cloud.
  • Its simple. Cloud storage providers like Dropbox have succeeded by making things uber-simple. Good for them. On the other hand, migrating servers, applications, configurations and networking links to the cloud can be anything but.
  • We will save money. Its possible, but not automatic. Scalable, pay-as-you-go resources offer an alternative to big capital investments of your own. However, cloud providers also have to make a living, even if they are sharing resources between several customers. Do your math. Some customers have found that cost-wise, they are better off without the cloud.
  • We will lose control. Cloud resources are set up to be accessed over the Internet, and typically have good security built in. That means authorized users can connect from anywhere, and unauthorized ones cannot. In that sense, the cloud gives you more control, not less.
  • I can stop/change when I want. There are two factors to be aware of here. The first is contractual. Even cloud providers need some continuity in the monthly fees paid by customers in order to show a profit. There may be commitments built into cloud agreements for this reason. The second is technical. Standards for moving between clouds are still evolving. Watch this space.
  • The cloud breaks down. There have been some notable cases of cloud services failing or of day-long outages, but overall, resilience is a strong point for the cloud. Cloud technologies can store data more safely and with smaller storage needs than conventional servers and hard drives (including RAID systems).
  • I can mix and match as I want. Not so fast. Making good use of the cloud takes good decisions and planning, like avoiding holding applications in one place and their data in another.

As with most other things, do your homework when deciding how to use the cloud. Understand your choices and act accordingly, or hire the services of competent, effective consultants and learn from them at the same time. You dont have to be the worlds foremost expert to get benefits out of the cloud. The important thing is to know what will work for you and what wont, and avoid any misconceptions by making your up your own mind on the matter.