Cloud Computing survey: more fog than cloud

Yesterday I attended a presentation from NTT Communications, a managed hosting provider, on the plans of 200 CFOs and CIOs from larger UK organizations (500+ employees) with respect to cloud computing. Since NTT would presumably like more companies to stick more stuff on its hosted servers, I presume it was hoping for a strong endorsement of the idea. Unfortunately for NTT, that was not the case. Fewer than 20% of those surveyed think they are using cloud computing now, a bit more than 20% think they will adopt some of it in the next two years, but – and here’s the real killer – cloud computing is way down the list of investment priorities, at around 5%. I’m not clear 5% of what exactly; but the report says it is the lowest priority.

What are companies spending money on instead? Servers and storage, network infrastructure, security, company web sites, backup and disaster recovery, unified communications, desktops and laptops, software, almost anything else in other words.

What’s wrong with the cloud? The three top issues, for those surveyed, are security, immaturity, and reliability.

These are valid concerns, though each one is open to debate; but the entire survey was undermined by the fact that most of those surveyed admitted to not knowing what cloud computing is. The reason is not ignorance, but the many and various ways the term is used. The common strand is that it is something to do with the internet, but even that is undermined if we describe virtual on-premise servers as a “private cloud”.

What are the varieties of cloud? Almost infinite, but here are a few:

  • Multi-tenanted applications such as Salesforce CRM, Google Docs, NetSuite. This is the model that has the biggest inherent economic advantage.
  • Hosted application platforms including Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, Force.com. These are hosted application servers, where you write the code, taking advantage of integrated hosted services for storage, identity, transactions and so on.
  • Utility services such as Amazon S3. It’s a great example: S3 offers nothing but storage, though you can use it in conjunction with other Amazon web services.
  • On-demand infrastructure such as Amazon EC2. You get virtual servers to do what you like with. NTT’s services are mainly in this broad category. It’s cloud but you are mostly not getting the benefits of multi-tenancy.
  • Anything on the internet. Running a web application? Hey, you’re in the cloud.

If we are going to have a sane discussion about these things, we need to know what we are talking about. Maybe rather than asking companies whether or not they are doing that cool cloud stuff, it would be better to enquire how they see their use of the internet evolving.

Another big question is the extent to which companies are willing to buy in their IT infrastructure as a third-party service. Although it makes obvious financial sense in most cases, it is a big ask given how business-critical it is, hence the concerns about security, immaturity, reliability.

Smaller companies with ad-hoc IT systems are likely to be more amenable to the idea, but this group was not covered by NTTs survey.

Conclusions? The main one is “watch this space”. In the end I reckon sheer economics will drive cloud computing adoption – in all the areas described above – but the one thing NTT’s survey proves is that larger organisations are in no hurry to make that jump.

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