Woah there, Mr. Speedy. We’ve barely caught up with the 10Gbps Thunderbolt interconnect, debuted in the new Macbook Pro, and now Intel’s hyperactive researchers are already chattering away about something five times faster. They’re promising a new interconnect, ready in four years, that will combine silicon and optical components (a technology called silicon photonics) to pump 50Gbps over distances of up to 100m. That’s the sort of speed Intel predicts will be necessary to handle, say, ultra-HD 4k video being streamed between smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and TVs. Intel insists that poor old Mr. Thunderbolt won’t be forced into early retirement, but if we were him we’d be speaking to an employment lawyer right about now.
There was a time when the “high street” bank was a disconnected silo, an island of tranquillity. Except when it came to a busy afternoon and you wanted to withdraw money. Your money. Because the only place you could withdraw it from was the branch with which you held your account. If you weren’t near it, tough. If it was too busy to serve you, tough.
There was a time when the only way you could draw money from a hole in the wall was to use your bank’s ATM network. It was private. Disconnected from all other bank networks. So if you weren’t near an ATM belonging to the bank you banked with, tough.
There was a time when you could only use the cards you had in the country you lived in. If you had to travel anywhere else, tough. Try cash or travellers’ cheques.
There was a time when there were no guarantees for what happened if someone impersonated you, if your cards were stolen, or, for that matter, your bank had a problem. No guarantee schemes. No nothing.
Thankfully, we’ve moved on from those times. Today we can choose who to bank with, draw money from any branch, any ATM, anywhere, anytime. Securely, efficiently, conveniently. Underpinned by the trust that comes from feeling secure, having guarantees.
And because of all this, we trust our banks with some of our most precious assets. The financial system has had its problems (which system hasn’t?). But people continue to use banks rather than revert to paper money and metal hidden under mattresses.
So it is with the cloud. Your data is a precious asset. Which means that you really have to think about where you keep it, whom you trust to look after it.
The “bank” where you keep your data must use a network that provides you access anywhere in the world; it must support a large variety of “data ATMs”, your mobile devices. It must provide you access swiftly and securely. It must have transparent pricing and charging. If there are legal reasons why someone else seeks to look into your “account” it must tell you about it.
The cloud, like the banking system, like any truly global system, is about openness and standards and transparency and trust and guarantees.
Which is why I’m delighted with what my employer Salesforce is doing, in putting forward a series of “cloud principles”, principles we work by, principles we seek to adhere to. This is something the company has been working on for a while now. Incidentally, where relevant, my posts also appear on cloudblog.salesforce.com.
Here they are, ten guiding principles, in draft form:
- Transparency: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should explain their information handling practices and disclose the performance and reliability of their services on their public Web sites.
- Use Limitation: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should claim no ownership rights in customer data and should use customer data only as their customers instruct them, or to fulfil their contractual or legal obligations.
- Disclosure: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should disclose customer data only if required to do so by the customer or by law, and should provide affected customers prior notice of any legally compelled disclosure to the extent permissible by law.
- Security Management System: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should maintain a robust security management system that is based on an internationally accepted security framework (such as ISO 27002) to protect customer data.
- Customer Security Features: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should provide their customers with a selection of security features to implement in their usage of the cloud computing services.
- Data Location: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should make available to their customers a list of countries in which their customer data related to them is hosted.
- Breach Notification: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should notify customers of known security breaches that affect the confidentiality or integrity of their customer data promptly.
- Audit: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should use third-party auditors to ensure compliance with their security management system and with these principles.
- Data Portability: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should make available to customers their respective customer data in an industry-standard, downloadable format.
- Accountability: Companies that provide enterprise cloud computing platforms should work with their customers to designate appropriate roles for privacy and security accountability.
By Tim WeberBusiness editor, BBC News website
Cloud computing is taking off on a massive scale, so what should companies look out for as they move their information technology into the cloud?
Cloud computing is not just a buzzword anymore. If 2010 was the year that cloud computing went mainstream, then 2011 will be the year that companies have to get their cloud strategy sorted.
At its most basic, cloud computing is "just another word for something that’s been going on for a long time – the internet," jokes Rowan Trollope, in charge of cloud services at web security firm Symantec.
In reality, though, cloud computing is a fundamental change of how we – companies and consumers – use computer technology.
Cloud computing is the delivery of computing power over the internet. It turns software into a service where customers don’t pay for a licence but for how much they use; it makes computing power and storage space a commodity, bought when needed and scaled up when necessary.
The cloud is such a "major technology disruption" that the new chief executive of computer giant Hewlett Packard, Leo Apotheker, has decided to refocus his whole company around a cloud strategy.
The early adopters are both the very big and the very small beasts in the corporate world.
"This year, especially for service providers like big telecoms companies, there is an extraordinary rush underway to deploy and go live with their cloud offerings," says Bob Beauchamp, CEO of BMC Software, a firm that helps large companies to build their own cloud solutions.
"The people who are most keen are those who see new revenue streams," says Mr Beauchamp.
One telecoms boss told him that "time is of the essence, we must hurry and get our cloud offering out because the market is very competitive, and we don’t want to be late to the market."
Not everybody is quite ready yet. Many manufacturers, says Mr Beauchamp, haven’t even started to think about their cloud strategy.
Many established small and medium-sized firms don’t even know what the cloud is, reports Martin Leuw, until recently chief executive of Iris Software Group.
From zero to server in 30 seconds
Ironically, small firms would be best placed to take advantage of the cloud. Indeed, it is usually start-ups that are seizing the moment.
After all, information technology is costly. It requires capital expenditure – for servers, software licences – and a team to maintain it all.
Cloud will ultimately become the prime architecture to deliver IT services”
Bob BeauchampBMC Software
And it is slow. "Twelve years ago, it took a company six to eight weeks to commission a server," says Lanham Napier, chief executive of Rackspace, a webhosting and cloud services company.
Putting your IT into the cloud allows "you to have a new server in 30 seconds, and to innovate and grow faster," he promises.
But going into the cloud is not without pitfalls. Companies have to think strategically how to "enable the cloud, get the road map, embrace the implementation and work out the security dimensions," says Nick Coleman, in charge of cloud security at IBM.
The price of cheap
The global economic crisis is helping with cloud adoption. Big IT providers report that customers’ budgets are so squeezed that there’s a huge reluctance to invest. So finance directors hope that moving to the cloud allows them to replace capital expenditure with operational expenditure.
Getting your IT from the cloud may be cheap, but it comes at a price: standardisation. Using the cloud means opting for off-the-shelf solutions.
There will be no, or hardly any, customisation. On the upside, instead of having the same big, pricey software package for everyone, your staff should be able to select smaller and cheaper applications with the functionality that is just right for them.
The cloud is also the perfect answer to the surge of corporate mobility. Workforces are becoming ever more mobile, while staff – from the chief executive down – carry smartphones and tablet computers, and expect that they can use them to access their work files everywhere.
Old school IT systems don’t cope with that, but attempts to force users to comply with old IT rules are doomed to fail, says Rami Habal of Proofpoint, a web security firm. "Users will revolt instead of going through the normal IT channels," he says.
Using cloud services saves companies from building the expensive infrastructure to support mobile solutions.
Most companies pay good IT money for little return. Their servers usually run at 15% to 25% of capacity at most.
Shifting the computing workload to a cloud provider is more efficient. Companies like Rackspace or Amazon run their cloud servers at 75% or even 90% of capacity. That’s both greener and cheaper.
More importantly, extra storage or computing power can be switched on in an instant, and it is this agility and scalability that persuades most companies to venture into the cloud – even more important than cost, according to a survey by Gartner, a technology consultancy.
Not all clouds have been created equal, though. Asking for a cloud solution is like asking for a "vehicle" instead of specific type of car.
Moving into the cloud is a cultural shift as well as a technology shift”
For starters, there are public cloud solutions that deliver a service, but you won’t know in detail how it is delivered. "The public cloud is a really cheap place to do business," says Dave Coplin, until recently the chief technology officer of Microsoft UK.
Big companies, however, often feel queasy about sharing their IT service with other companies. They want the "commercials of the cloud", paying only for what they use, but stay in full control as well, says Nick Wilson, the man in charge of Hewlett Packard in the UK and Ireland.
The solution is private clouds, where companies know exactly where their own software and data are, maybe even down to the server racks dedicated to their computing.
Realistically, though, most established companies won’t even go that far and opt for a hybrid cloud instead, where a private cloud solution is closely integrated with a company’s legacy system, says BMC’s Bob Beauchamp.
As companies phase out these old systems, "cloud will ultimately become the prime architecture to deliver IT services," he predicts.
Cloud enthusiasts like JP Rangaswami, chief science officer at Salesforce.com, one of the earliest firms to bet on the cloud, wants companies to ditch their legacy systems much faster. "It’s the sunken cost fallacy," he argues, where IT departments feel more comfortable supporting old mainframes and enterprise software instead of supporting their company’s business strategy.
The cloud check list
Still, even the biggest cloud cheerleaders counsel companies to compile a thorough checklist.
The starting point for any such list will be a self-examination, because one size won’t fit all.
Nick Coleman at IBM reels off a long list of vital questions: How much management do your data or applications need? What’s the right measure of security for your company? Where is the workload? Which data are sensitive, which are not? Do you have specific regulatory issues like audits, compliance and privacy?
"Map your company’s IT needs early for the right cloud strategy. In a start-up, the source code might be really sensitive; for others it is not a core issue. Ask yourself what you should put in the cloud," says Mr Coleman.
"Think of the cloud as a tool, an enabler, you have to think about what you want to have as an outcome," says Microsoft’s Dave Coplin. For one company, security may equal reliability; for another it may be the safety of the data.
Rowan Trollope at Symantec has six tips for companies moving into the cloud:
- Check out the reputation of the service provider: How long have they been offering cloud services, bearing in mind that size isn’t everything; many big companies are piling into the market but don’t know what they are doing
- Security is key. Really understand how secure your data have to be, and ask the vendor how they would solve your security problems
- Investigate how the cloud provider makes back-up copies of your data, how you can move the data to another provider, and what happens if the provider goes out of business
- Work hard to get a good service level agreement with clear financial penalties to ensure a good service.
- Be wary of industry certifications, because they capture just a moment in time. Do your own research on how the vendor is performing
- Finally, try the service. The beauty of cloud computing is that it’s easy to switch on and off. Obviously don’t start your cloud adventure with confidential data or mission-critical systems, but if the service works for you, you can expand.
The experts at Gartner counsel their customers to "put a small [cloud service] in place first and see what unexpected behaviours happen."
"The risk is in allowing that small private cloud to grow faster than your organisation, people, and processes and business model changes can handle it."
Companies have to understand that cloud computing is more than an IT deployment. "Moving into the cloud is a cultural shift as well as a technology shift," says Microsoft’s Mr Coplin. "People lose some flexibility, but they get scalability and power in return."
For IT departments, and especially the chief technology and chief information officers, it requires a rethinking of their roles, away from operations and towards business strategy.
Moving to the cloud also results in new challenges. To "onboard" a new employee – putting them on the HR system, sorting their payroll, giving them access to the company’s customer relationship management software, providing mobile access to the corporate IT etc – may involve half a dozen cloud services.
All this needs to be tied together, so that one click can enable all cloud services, says Bob Beauchamp.
IT service providers like Infosys of India have identified this as a big business opportunity. Chief executive Kris Gopalakrishnan believes that companies moving into the cloud will soon require a "cloud aggregation service" that integrates the patchwork of cloud services with a company’s core IT systems.
Clearly, these are still early days.
There are no fully established policies that rule the behaviour of data and applications in the cloud.
Cloud-to-cloud communication is still a big issue, says Mr Beauchamp, although he predicts that soon they "will be able to interoperate".
At Rackspace, chief executive Lanham Napier even describes cloud technology as "still a little bit immature, but progressing".
JP Rangaswami at Salesforce.com, meanwhile, calls for the adoption of10 simple principles for cloud service providers – ranging from data portability and transparency to security breach notifications.
Then there is talk of IT becoming just another commodity, with spot prices for storage and computing power.
John Manley, in charge of cloud computing at HP Labs in the UK, says that "we are in the foothills of cloud computing and going towards Mount Everest".