Hey, You! Get Off of My Cloud!


Cloud computing isn’t a new concept. Technically speaking (and some may disagree), cloud computing is as old as public chat rooms and web mail. As long as we’ve been able to attach a file and send it out into the cold, dark server-based galaxy of cyberspace, we’ve all been living in the cloud. The term itself – cloud computing – is nothing more than a marketing construct developed by software companies for the express purpose of paying homage to the offices of CEOs and Boards of Directors, wherein the almighty dollar is king.

That’s the cynical view. Now for the idealistic, almost Utopian, approach:

Cloud computing is the miracle cure that will change our lives to the point where we wonder how we survived the chaos that existed before living in the cloud. It will increase productivity and collaboration, reduce office footprints by giving rise to telecommuting. Some may say that it even reduces the need for localized data security because the security is now in the safe, competent hands of dedicated data centers. The cloud even tips a hat to green computing, reducing the carbon footprint in offices by passing application and data loads off to remote servers, thus reducing the need for localized and/or dedicated servers (truth be told, the jury’s still out on this one).

Stand back and take a long look at both these views. Does either ring true? Of course not. In fact, the truth seems to lie somewhere in the middle, but all good IS Managers approach the topic cautiously and with a great deal of research into the pros and the cons, the tools and the risks. The implications of employee training alone can leave the strongest of IT people waking in the middle of the night, screaming for their mommies. All the while, evangelists in the form of software account managers stand on soapboxes, thumping on white papers that explain cloud computing and its cost benefits and pointing long, bony index fingers straight at us, promising, “this is what cloud computing can – nay, will – do for you! ROI! ROI!”

It’s no wonder that the caution, confusion and fear have risen to monumental levels; but like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, IT professionals approach the finish line, slowly and steadily, hoping all the while that the bosses won’t push them over the edge of a precipice from which there is no safe return.

Amidst all the confusion, news of recent security breaches at some very large companies may be the warning that IT people everywhere have been looking for – the ammunition they need to remind their bosses that being the first to jump off a cliff before checking for water below isn’t the best way to embrace innovation. The recent woes felt by Sony Corporation, Epsilon and Amazon serve as that useful warning. While some may not recognize the name Epsilon as a household name, all will recognize the other two. If one was asked to name the top technology companies in the world today, Sony and Amazon would surely be in that list. So it’s no surprise that the news of these data breaches (a reported 100 million accounts compromised for Sony, which is still experiencing issues two weeks after the breach) has shaken the online world to its very core. And one of the casualties here may very well be cloud computing.

According to Reuters, “Some businesses are rethinking plans to move to cloud-based computer systems located at remote data centers that can be accessed over the web,” and that the Sony breach and Amazon’s recent outage at its cloud computer center, “have caused some businesses to put the brakes on plans to move their operations into the cloud.”

This might only be the beginning, because no one really knows what’s going to happen next. It seems that a new security breach greets us each week, and with each story it seems like the hits are getting worse and the stakes are getting higher. “Nobody is secure,” Eric Johnson, professor at Dartmouth University and technology advisor to corporations, was quoted by Reuters. “Sony is just the tip of this thing.” In fact, Reuters reports that since Sony announced its PlayStation Network and Qriocity breaches on April 26, stocks for companies involved in cloud computing have not only underperformed, but “Salesforce.com Inc, a maker of web-delivered software, has dropped 3 percent. VMware Inc, which sells software for building clouds, has declined 2 percent.” Lest one thinks this is a general trend in the stock markets, Reuters reports that The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has increased by 3.3 percent.

So does this mark a major setback for cloud computing, the miracle of modern connectivity? It certainly gives rise to conversations about data security and the risks associated with putting sensitive data ‘out there.’ Ever since the term ‘cloud computing’ was coined and then pushed – and pushed again – out to the marketplace as the solution to everyone’s problems, there’s been an uneasiness about the implications of placing data – the lifeblood of modern society – outside the firewall. People, in a cloudlike trance, seem to have been soaking up the concept of being able to access their data from anywhere in the world, but at what cost?

Perhaps these recent events are the wakeup call that everyone needed. Consider a newborn baby and a crib, which has all the requisite safety features, including bars to keep the child safe from falling. Nearby, you have a bed, soft and safe and comfortable in its own right, but lacking the features designed to protect a young child. Who in their right mind would opt for placing the baby on the bed, and then leave the baby unattended?

It’s something to consider.

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