Cloud Computing Outlook Far From Sunny

by Rob England

Despite the buzz, cloud computing is for the birds, and not just for migratory reasons.

Cloud computing is "buzz" concept of the year for 2009. It has its place, especially for high-risk/low-capital applications like startups or small business or web sites, but for enterprise computing and — especially for improving existing core applications — I have a more jaundiced view.

As a concept, cloud computing is a pointer to the future, but there is much hype around the present. As James Maguire of Datamation put it recently: "As Cloud computing has emerged as a red hot trend, tech vendors of every stripe have painted the term 'Cloud' on their products, much like food brands all tout that they're 'low fat'."

Quite simply, the idea is impractical for legacy enterprise applications. It is yet another technical solution to a business problem. Such technical solutions to non-technical problems usually don't solve the original problem. They tend to introduce more problems of their own, and almost invariably introduce greater complexity to be managed, but IT loves them. They offer a silver bullet, out-of-the-box fix to take the pain away, which is hard to resist. So it is with "The Cloud."

We are speaking here about cloud computing as the provision of distributed infrastructure across the Internet; the ability to process "anywhere," which is the generally accepted current definition of the term. We are not talking about SaaS (software as a service), which was what "The Cloud" may have originally referred to. Although that is a valid part of the cloud, because it does not apply to migration of legacy applications.

Cloud computing is one of those hype terms that gets applied to everything, so, to be clear, we are also not referring to internal grids or hosted computing or the myriad other things that seem to get lumped into "The Cloud".

What we are talking about is infrastructure than moves around the network, including outside the bounds of the organization to providers of resources on-demand. Using one proposed ontology: platform, processing, data and communications as a service or, for the acronym lovers out there, PPDCaaS.

Bernard Golden, one of the leading thinkers on open source, has some interesting things to say about obstacles to adoption of the cloud in his article The Case Against Cloud Computing. He identifies five obstacles, and in Part I he looks at the first: migration. He is open-eyed but upbeat about addressing the problem of legacy migration, and believes it can be overcome. I, on the other hand, am a little more skeptical.

"According to one person I spoke with," writes Golden, "migrating applications out of internal data centers and into the cloud is the key interest driver for clouds among enterprises. But, once they find out how difficult it is to move an application to an external cloud, their enthusiasm dwindles. It seems well within technical capability for someone to develop a P2C (physical-to-cloud) migration tool that could offer all or much of the technical effort necessary for migration. Of course, this tool would need to be able to translate to several different cloud architectures.

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This article was originally published on Tuesday Jun 16th 2009
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