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Cloud Computing Special Part 2: Cloud Control

Cloud Computing Special Part 2: Cloud Control

Beyond the hype, some companies are moving cautiously to cloud computing. Meet the experimenters.

All of these hype-cycled technologies eventually had a significant impact on corporate computing environments, but invariably at much greater complexity and expense than initially promised.

First, a definition of cloud that makes sense to most CIOs: You don't own the software or hardware and, unlike outsourcing, no specific equipment is dedicated only to you. You access the vendor's systems over the Internet in some secured way. For that access, you pay a subscription fee that rises or falls with how much or how often you draw on the vendor's systems.

Google, for example, offers office basics such as e-mail and word processing, with password protection and a per-user fee. Amazon offers substantial systems such as complete e-commerce or storage facilities, and charges per hour or per gigabyte for various configurations. From a newcomer such as Skytap, which provides virtual data centre services, you get access to application development and testing environments for a monthly base charge and pay extra for virtual-machine, storage and data-transfer options. Cloud permutations range from network plumbing to business applications (see "The Cloud Takes Many Forms", page 55).

But using a cloud of someone else's technologies isn't as simple as telling Amazon to open its doors to accept your data, then writing a check every month, cautions Motorola's Soto.

He would love to retool Motorola's IT to match computing power and cost-to-user demand, whether it falls during a bad economy or rises during a good one. "How do we find a consumption-based model to pay for what we use, to be able to spin them up quickly or shut down without having to be burdened with depreciation schedules in the normal IT process?" he asks.

That idea appeals to many IT leaders considering cloud computing, says Tom Pettibone, managing partner of consulting firm Transition Partners. CIOs have had to design their data centres to take peak loads. But during off-peak times, that capacity sits unused and idling at great expense, Pettibone says. "That costs you every day."

In the Skytap experiment, Motorola put four applications on Skytap servers: a project management tracker, a Web design application, an IT asset management database and a Microsoft Active Directory application. For $US1000, a small group of Motorola employees could test how those applications worked on Skytap's cloud for 30 days.

Motorola is used to getting IT from outside its own walls, with 33 SaaS applications in production, including Salesforce. But what the cloud experiments showed, Soto says, is that agility and cost savings come with trade-offs. While he estimates the cost at one-third to one-half of what Motorola normally spends on those applications, Skytap's security needs work, he explains. Motorola's people could see each other's data, he says. "That's very significant."

Plus, adds Sujit Sinha, senior director of IT strategy and architecture at Motorola, complying with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations about segregation of duties in the cloud appears difficult. "We didn't see a way to segregate who has rights to do what," Sinha says. That raises concerns about failing a Sox audit, which requires clear evidence of employee assignments that present no conflicts of interest when handling company financial data.

Skytap is learning from its customers, says Ian Knox, the vendor's director of product management. Security settings can be changed to protect data from the eyes of others, he says. A few weeks after Motorola's test ended, Skytap added several reporting and role-based access features to address Sox concerns, Knox adds. In cloud computing in general, Sinha notes, other issues also need to be worked out, such as who has rights to your data. With no universally accepted terms of what a cloud vendor can and cannot do, he says, "you have to work it out in your contracts."

Despite the obstacles, Motorola is moving forward with its cloud initiatives. Next, they will pilot cloud services from a bigger player and, within the next quarter, they hope to have a small cloud application in production. Says Soto: "We'd do it yesterday if we could."

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