Up in the Air over Cloud Computing

Executive Summary: Michael Otey has been hearing amazing things about the cloud. He looks at Microsoft’s SQL Server Data Services cloud computing offering and asks the tough questions about availability, security, and control.

Every few years the tech industry goes gaga over a hot new technology. A few years back it was the thin client, then it was open source, then it was XML. Now pundits opine that the future is cloud computing, and if you’re not on the bandwagon, you’ll be obsolete. However, when you look back at these other trends, you’ll notice that each ended up being useful for a particular functionality. They didn’t take over the IT world.

The Silver Lining in the Cloud

What’s so compelling about cloud computing? It’s essentially the cost savings. Theoretically, if you take advantage of computing services from the cloud (i.e., the Internet), your organization wouldn’t need servers or the expensive databases that run on them. The company would save on infrastructure, licensing, and IT personnel who run the infrastructure. But the real benefit is for the hosting vendors, who like cloud computing because it offers a predictable, subscription-based income model, instead of the more uncertain traditional software sales model.

SQL Server in the Cloud?

Because it’s a line of business (LOB) application whose availability is paramount, SQL Server may seem like the last thing you’d expect to see in the cloud. But cloud services are exactly what SQL Server Services are all about. SQL Server Services give you access to a set of Microsoft-hosted SQL Server instances to provide global on-demand data. These services offer a subset of the database functionality found in SQL Server, which is probably not appealing to most organizations running SQL Server. SQL Server Services don’t replace SQL Server; rather, they’re a data store for new web applications. SQL Server Services seem more likely to be adopted by other service providers than by typical organizations. They’re a good way for Microsoft to dip its toes into the subscriptionbased pool.

The Dark Side of the Cloud

Cloud computing will certainly be a viable solution for applications whose functionality isn’t required one hundred percent of the time. I’m fine with using the cloud for Google Gmail or Windows Live Mail. But it’s not suitable for all applications. Do I want my desktop in the cloud? No. Do I want my company’s file and print server in the cloud? No. Do I want my critical applications in the cloud? No. Why not? The first reason is availability. Although the Internet and most websites are almost always there, the truth is everyone has been frustrated when all or part of the web goes down.

I’m also not sure if the cloud is secure enough. What do you think: Is it comforting or disturbing to entrust your confidential data to another company? What about possible legal issues and data exposure if your cloud services company also provides services for your competitors?

I’m uneasy about potential application integration problems. Many organizations experience difficulty with application isolation caused by different parts of the business running as independent islands. What would happen when if handed over integration with external services to a third party managing the cloud? Could this loss of control make a bad problem worse?

Finally, there are those events we just can’t predict. Stuff happens. What do you do if the hosting company goes out of business? We all remember that many companies didn’t make it when the dot.com bubble burst. And the economy doesn’t look all that healthy right now.

Don’t Let Me Rain on Your Parade

I’m not sold on cloud computing because I know the day I bet my core business processes on the cloud will probably be the day the Internet crashes. The cost savings offered by cloud computing just don’t overcome my reservations about loss of control. How about you? Are you ready for cloud computing and SQL Server Services? Drop me an email at [email protected] or [email protected].

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