Cloud offers Clear Benefits but the Rate of Adoption is Varied
When I first heard the phrase “cloud computing” I immediately thought of the list of esoteric benefits typically found in news articles and tech magazines: reduced costs, increased storage, high automation, flexibility, mobility, and focused-innovation by IT orgs. However, even with a background in applications development, I still struggled to connect these benefits to real-word applications. Last week, I attended the Center’s Tech@Tuck conference on cloud computing. The conference presented two informative opportunities: (1) to interact with vendors who leverage the cloud to provide vital services to clients and (2) to attend a panel discussion with executives from top firms that offer cloud products.
Walking into Tuck’s Conway Foyer area, which often is populated by student orgs publicizing their events, offered something new during Tech@Tuck. I found vendors like Global Relief Technologies (GRT), (pcitured below) which specializes in providing vital, time-sensitive information to groups that operate in extreme environments. Through use of its cloud-based platform, called Rapid Data Management System, GRT connects relief organizations, disaster-management teams, and military operations with data critical to the success of their roles. From my conversation with the GRT rep, I could better understand the real-world uses of a cloud-based system. For example, relief workers during the Katrina crisis would have greatly benefited from the enhanced connectivity to other workers and the data now available through GRT’s platform. It became evident that a clear, tangible benefit to cloud was the creation of product offerings and services that were previously unavailable, such as GRT’s Rapid Data Management System.
The panel discussion with executives from Amazon, AT&T, Cognitive Electronics, Google, and IBM, further grounded both the advantages and drawbacks of cloud computing. These points are a few of the many remarks that I found interesting:
- The cloud offers immense potential to startups, requiring significantly smaller capital investments in infrastructure, platforms, and applications than ever before, while also providing flexibility to easily and economically scale business. Amazon’s Peter Vosshall pointed to the success of Animoto, a startup that enables users to creatively combine photos, videos and music. Animoto used Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) web service to capture Facebook’s enormous user base interested in Animoto applications. This required scaling from “40 to 4,000 instances in a very short period of time”.
- The full benefits of cloud computing might not be realized by established firms for a long time. IBM’s William Tworek commented that the “variability“ in a cloud-based model in terms of pricing, contracts, and billing is incompatible with many accounting and financial systems. Billing systems were mostly built to handle consistent monthly charges, so adding variable rates based on the cloud-pricing model presents a significant challenge for some firms. Companies often make the decision to forgo the potential cost savings of pay-as-you-go to avoid addressing changes to internal processes.
- The dangers of cloud use stem less from outages and hackers, but rather from uneducated users. As the lead of IBM’s cloud security strategy and implementation, Tworek provided key insights into what he perceives are the real threats. While the cloud offers users agility to try new things, this new power must be coupled with appropriate education and skills. “What we see in terms of security risk [and] security incidents in the cloud are largely from business-line types of adapters going out and using cloud service to do something very agile, some advancement for the business,” he noted. Security issues arise such as disabled firewalls or weak passwords due to the lack of awareness.
- Many advantages of cloud favor people who are more comfortable operating in this medium, such as application developers. AT&T’s Steven Caniano cautioned that while the barrier to entry is now low for developers, capitalizing on innovations will still require an infrastructure for proper distribution and marketing.
I truly enjoyed attending the Tech@Tuck conference. For me, a Tuckie who enjoys business and technology, the conference provided an informative, interactive medium to better understand the buzz about the cloud. Now, when I hear the words “cloud computing”, I’ll recall the experiences and conversations from Tech@Tuck. You can say my frame of reference will be less “in the clouds."
Experience highlights of the panel discussion here: