Cloud Computing: Bull, Silver Bullet, or Silver Lining?


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I suppose you can’t have a Shoot Out about Cloud Computing without talking about Silver Bullets. So, bang, bang, here goes!

There is a lot of discussion about Cloud Computing and it has become a very popular term. Because of this, there is a lot of confusion about the definition of this evolutionary computing capability. Nevertheless, the confusion and hype do not negate the significant benefit that this technology offers. Grave budget problems are forcing most Chief Information Officers (CIOs) to seriously look at these capabilities and their potential to save costs. Furthermore, the Obama Administration, through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), is strongly encouraging Federal CIOs to consider this and other types of innovation to address agency challenges.

The Bull – Get Past the Hype

There is so much marketing hype surrounding Cloud Computing it is very difficult to sift through issues to determine whether there is a benefit for your organization. What further exacerbates this is the … dare I say it … cloudy definition of what Cloud Computing really is. It’s always good to agree on the definition before you even start to have a conversation.

Cloud Computing is a style of computing where scalable and elastic capabilities are provided as a service through Internet capabilities. Elasticity is the most important attribute and is looked at from the perspective of the consumer of the service. Capabilities are acquired at the consumer’s (end user) discretion and are automatic, demand-focused, with no manual intervention. There is no need to place a call or make an order; these capabilities are done in an automated fashion. The elasticity provides for a “pay as you go” concept that negates the need to build infrastructures for new products or new development projects. The cost savings are achieved through this elasticity. Its security model is designed to operate in a hostile environment and focuses on flexibility. The security model is best described as rather than building a big secure moat around a computing environment to protect data, have “armed guards” escort data every where it needs to go.

CIOs should strongly resist the allure of the hype and look at this style of computing as a means to an end rather than the end itself. It’s not the style of delivering the technology that is important, it is the mission and business value. However, if CIOs are not sure about the mission and business value, piloting a few small initiatives to get your feet wet in any new innovation can always have the potential of delivering great results.

The Silver Bullet – Determine If This is Appropriate

Cost savings is typically a strong driver for considering use of cloud services. However, it is not always cost effective. As CIO of NASA, I can’t overlook the economic attraction of obtaining, for example, email services through a cloud service provider. Many of these providers can meet or exceed my service levels for a fraction of the cost of providing the services internally. However, the complexities of internally provisioning cloud services for other less appropriate applications may drive costs higher when compared to traditional computing methods.

Efforts requiring new design, new integration, and development are well-suited to cloud computing. However, large-scale transaction processing may be better suited for traditional computing methods. As NASA CIO, I have a strong interest in the suitability for scientific and technical requirements early in the development and concept stage. This is very attractive also for negating the need to invest and build complex infrastructures before the requirements are fully developed or before they are needed.

The Silver Lining – Do What is Right for Your Organization

Obtaining services through cloud computing can deliver radically lower cost when compared with traditional environments. Not every organization will find appropriate needs to use Cloud Computing. However, CIOs should strongly investigate the usefulness and potential cost savings that this computing environment may offer. Here are three strategies to start:

Strategy 1: Begin to consume cloud services

Investigate high value areas where cloud services are appropriate. Specifically look at cloud services for opportunities to reduce fixed-cost services or explore it as an alternative to investing in the high entry costs for development efforts.

Strategy 2: Build internal private clouds

Private clouds mitigate many of the perceived and real security and risk issues. Do this thoughtfully because many cloud service providers are making significant progress in addressing and mitigating these risks. You may see, for example, many service providers close to receiving their Federal Information Security Management Act Certification and Accreditation.

Strategy 3: Develop cloud-centric solutions

Educate your agency enterprise architects on the efficacy of cloud capabilities and make a determination about the appropriateness of cloud when designing solutions.

Regardless of the strategy or approach you use, strive to get past the bull, don’t expect that this is a silver bullet, and look for the silver lining.

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Agencies, Commentary, Departments, Guest Columns, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), VIP Blogs
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