Not every cloud has a silver lining…

There has been much furore of late about Cloud Computing, the focus becoming so intense that we are well into Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome, as organisations leap towards something they think ‘have to have’ without necessarily understanding ‘it’ or the consequences. Whilst there are plenty of examples of organisations that have benefitted from off-loading their IT infrastructure, the fledgling public cloud industry has unsurprisingly done little to highlight the downsides.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and, instead of starting with technology, look at people and their need to access information. For most organisations, people and information are their primary assets. Without unfettered access between those assets the organisation will lack efficiency and flexibility and may even grind to a halt. We have already seen the product of a lack of strategic architectural planning in large organisations where islands of information are not joined to provide a single 360 degree view of the customer. The customer suffers. In organisations with multiple services and scenarios where multiple organisations have to collaborate around the delivery of a service, joining up information from multiple disparate systems becomes a day to day necessity. In these cases, it would be right to ask a few basic questions before unhitching my corporate data centre. I had better be very sure that:

  1. the available cloud-based applications are the right choice for my business
  2.  I have access to my data without being bound by restrictive licence terms and conditions
  3. I am legally permitted to offload the storage of sensitive information to a third party
  4. I am happy that a third party has control over one of my primary assets
  5. my data is not locked away inside an application over whose development path I have no control
  6. I can securely share my data with people, other organisations, and other applications
  7. I can respond rapidly to changing business needs without having to buy an expensive add-on to a monolithic application every time my process needs to change
  8. I can push and pull information as quickly as I need to
  9. I don’t have to pay an application licence fee just to access my data
  10. all of my data is in one place and is structured in a way that is flexible enough to deal with network outages and any number of changes to my business processes that might be required… forever.

The above list is far from exhaustive but it does serve to demonstrate that unless you are the manufacturer of a single widget and you’ll never have to deal with anything more complex than selling and producing your single widget, you might want to look at the alternatives to hosting in a public cloud. Certainly, there are many advantages of cloud computing that can be brought into your data centre to deliver your own, very much more flexible private hybrid cloud. In a private cloud, you can mitigate the lack of flexibility by mixing old with new. Not everything has to be in your cloud. The important point being that you have control.

We’ve done some informal research of our own on the new wave of public cloud offerings. Without a doubt, there are some stunningly talented and innovative technologists out there but, in our experience, very few of them are customer-focussed in a way that makes them accountable. Even fewer can begin to understand the culture, the processes, or the information needs of their larger customers. They are focussed on rapid growth. So, as with internet hosting companies a decade ago, if you’re unhappy, they will only bend so far before concluding that ‘there’ll be another customer along in a moment’.

Lastly, for large, complex organisations, particularly the public sector, there is an even more fundamental question with which to conjure. Public cloud computing exists to make money. With some providers making up to 30-40% margin, why would you want to sell off the family silver of shared services when a public sector owned private cloud, delivered on a public sector network would bring national savings of £billions? We’re back to building a Strategic IT Framework that focuses on people again…

David Gale

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