Vivek Kundra, President Obama's newly appointed Chief Information Officer, plans to push the White House to embrace cloud computing.
"He acknowledged that there are privacy and security issues with some cloud-computing efforts..." writes Saul Hansell in The New York Times "Bits" blog (March 5, 2009). "But he said that should not stop the government from taking advantage of the speed and efficiency such systems offer."
Kundra's position echoes prevailing attitudes about cloud computing, a style of business information management in which an enterprise's resources (applications, files) are stored and shared over the Internet. To access these, a worker needs a computer or mobile device and a wired or wireless Internet connection; everything else is "in the cloud," hosted, and scalable to the business' needs. It's a concept that has big implications for mobilizing key business applications.
In Salt Lake City, Danny Guillory, CEO of Innovations International, has had success with cloud computing. In September 2008, Guillory decided to disband the physical office. Employees went totally mobile at the 25-year-old company, which consults with organizations in areas of empowerment, creativity and work-life balance. Guillory turned over the company's data management to Egnyte.
"Roughly speaking, in terms of hard costs, going virtual has saved us about 20% on annual expenses," says Guillory. "But it's really done even more for us." The newfound flexibility has enabled his team to work how and when it's best for them, and that is reflected in the quality of their work.
"I love how Egnyte is basically ubiquitous with the desktop," Guillory continues. "It looks like any one of my folders, and it comes up as fast as anything on my hard drive. To me, the hassle of not maintaining servers, and the ability to access anything, anytime from any computer with an Internet connection... it's been a godsend."
For businesses, the benefits of cloud computing include:
- Speed. Getting started can entail little more than signing in.
- Cost effectiveness. Hosts generally charge by the seat, so businesses pay only for what they need. Additionally, IT's workload is considerably lightened.
Paul Brennan, Chairman / CEO of Zeus Technology -- a provider of traffic management solutions that help customers to load-balance network services in cloud environments or across clusters of physical or virtual servers -- adds that cloud computing is:
- Scalable. "Each customer's application has access to almost limitless resources (CPU, memory, storage) and can use as little or as much as they need."
- Flexible. "In most cases, a customer can run their application on an on-premise (private) cloud, an off-premise (public) cloud, and can move it between clouds as conditions dictate."
- Shared and dedicated. "Cloud computing providers can use a large, common infrastructure for many applications or customers, and cloud customers receive their own dedicated resources."
Back On Solid Ground
Popular cloud solutions include Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office Live and Intuit QuickBase. Google Apps is another enormously popular office productivity tool. Simply log in, and there it is. Except, when it's not.
On February 24, 2009, Google's Gmail services went down worldwide for three hours at the start of the British workday. It affected Google Apps services, barred millions of workers from their emails and disrupted an unknowable amount of business.
On February 11, 2009, a cooler broke down in a Nokia hosting center, and its Contacts on Ovi social-networking service crashed, wiping out three weeks of user updates, profiles, updated images and added friendships -- all stored in the cloud.
And in 2008, Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) experienced failures in February and July, causing outages at online companies that depend on the S3 for file storage.
Security concerns are the top barrier against adoption, according to the "2009 Cloud Computing Trends Report" from Hosting.com. Avanade, a global IT consultancy, also commissioned a survey on cloud computing and found that, "By a 5-to-1 ratio, executives report that they trust existing internal systems over cloud-based systems due to fear about security threats and loss of control of data and systems."
Tech company Third Brigade focuses on protecting servers, and the applications on those servers, and counts ING and Blue Cross Blue Shield among its customers. "We help organizations put a perimeter around each of their individually deployed cloud computing servers," says Bill McGee, VP of Products and Services. "So instead of having big networking security boxes on your perimeter, you can deploy a software agent to the server itself to provide a level of protection there from different types of malicious activity.
"Security is the No. 1 concern with moving to the cloud," adds McGee, "so we can be an enabler, making it a more viable option."
Many Egnyte customers, while happy with its hosting services, still craved a physical back-up copy of documents at the end of the month. Consequently, the company's newest offering is Local Cloud, a "hybrid" that blends a hosted online solution with an on-premise solution, providing small businesses up-to-date and complete access to their file servers, whether they have an Internet connection or not.
Egnyte CEO Vineet Jain says these difficult economic times may be what it takes to move people past their fears. "We're finding a lot more traction with companies that probably would not have given it a second look in the past," says Jain. "We gave them a great opportunity to convert those capital expenditure dollars into an operation expense line, because it's a monthly subscription-based service."
Since its launch two years ago, Egnyte has added approximately 200 customers a month, with an average of four seats per customer, according to Jain.
"Honestly, there's a lot of hype about the cloud," Jain says. "The cloud is good, it's important. But for the main problems -- wanting a local copy, offline access, latency issues -- the cloud, no matter how good your Internet connection is, [won't] ever address those satisfactorily."
Michelle Maisto is a former editor of Mobile Enterprise and has been covering mobility for 10 years.