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Is Your Business Ready For Cloud Computing?

2012/06/30

"Cloud Computing" is not exactly a new concept. Fifty years ago it was called "time sharing" and the world abandoned it with a sigh of relief when affordable small computers appeared.

About a decade ago it resurfaced under the guise of "application services provisioning", in which form it proved substantially unmarketable.

A reasonable course of action might have been to drop it then but the potential reward from winding the clock back 50 years to the days of pay-by-the-minute computing is huge, to say the least.

With an eye firmly on the prize - usually expressed in terms of a ten digit IPO cash out - the industry is trying again with a new label, a new rationale and the mighty wind of Fear of Being Left Behind by Not Embracing Change filling its sails.

Forget time sharing and application services. This is The Future. Cloud computing.

Although cloud computing has its advantages - for the most part they're the same ones offered by timesharing 50 years ago - those of us who have seen these trends come and go are, shall we say, somewhat concerned about the wholesale adoption of this technology for no better reason than a good sales pitch.

"You do understand," says a consultant friend of ours, "that a 'cloud' is basically a server that's accessible over the internet?"

Putting all your business data on a computer that can be potentially accessed from just about anywhere in internet space. Gee, what could go wrong with that?

Quite a bit, as it happens, and there's a very realistic "cloud readiness test" that any business can perform to determine if "The Cloud" is right for them. It consists of nine phases that you can probably execute yourself without hiring outside consultants.

Here's how it works:

  1. At some random time through the day (early in the morning just before things get real busy is recommended), go to your computer room and turn off your main file server. When the phone starts ringing, explain that "the Cloud is down for maintenance". Leave it off for about four hours, just like what supposedly happened to a major software manufacturer recently. Do this every month or so.

  2. Approximately twice every three days, disconnect the main cable from your internet router. Hide it some place where it will take about ten or fifteen minutes to find it. Have people go to every workstation in the building and randomly close documents, open invoices and time-billing spreadsheets without saving the changes. This will realistically simulate internet outages that occur regularly in many businesses with VPN routers.

  3. Every few months, select several dozen document files at random from your main file server. Print out four or five copies of each and scatter them at random around your community. The bigger the community, the more accurate this part of the test will be. If anyone notices this, explain that there has been a security breach on "the Cloud" but since it must have been caused by hacking or malware on the user end, you are not responsible for it.

  4. A couple of times a year, access your main file server and randomly replace some files with month-old copies retrieved from backup. Explain to those who inquire about this that it must be the result of unknown interference with "the Cloud" for which you cannot be held responsible.

  5. Every day at about 1530, disconnect the main cable to your internet router and connect an old 10 MB network hub between it and the internet modem. When users call wondering why "the Cloud" is now running at between one and ten percent of its normal speed and killing their productivity, explain that school is out and every home computer in town is now sucking up bandwidth downloading music from iTunes, video chatting, watching Youtube videos and playing World of Warcraft. Reassure them that the situation should be resolved by 2300, unless it's not a school night.

  6. You need to wait until you have something major like a tax audit or a litigation case coming up in court to perform this part of the text. Approximately 24 hours before the critical date, have someone randomly disconnect and reconnect the main cable to your internet router. Do this a couple dozen times an hour for between ten and 24 hours. Explain to your users that someone - possibly a highly skilled hacker employed by the other litigant's counsel - is conducting a denial of service attack on your internet connection. Reassure them that although it's not clear where the attack is coming from at present, it ought to be resolved in a couple of days at the maximum.

  7. Every couple of years, shut down the main file server and remove it from the building. Take it to an undisclosed location. Tell people looking for their data that "the Cloud" you have been using has been bought out by another company who is demanding a renegotiation of your contract at substantially higher cost. Since the new owner contends that data residing on their "Cloud" server is their property and not yours, your file server will not be returned. Wait a month and then destroy the server. Explain that the new owners have decided to shut down your "cloud" and do not, under the laws of the country to which they have outsourced their business, feel themselves legally obligated to let you have your data.

  8. Tell all your users that for a four-hour period last Tuesday and possibly a time or two before that, a software malfunction caused the server to stop asking for passwords when people tried to access files on it. Make sure to say you're sorry and that you'll really try to make sure it doesn't happen again. If anyone complains, refer to the fine print in their contract.

  9. Although the previous steps of the Cloud Readiness Test are optional, this one is not. Send a form letter to your largest customers. Explain to them that you're putting files containing their personal and corporate information on a computer system that's not owned by your firm, that your own IT staff don't have physical access to, is accessible via the internet, and which you have been assured is located in Canada. Or maybe the United States. Or at least someplace marginally sympathetic to Western capitalism. Or it was anyway when you signed the contract. Be sure to let them know that although at least three national governments where this server may or may not be located have given themselves the authority to examine its contents at their own pleasure and a number of state-sponsored and/or organised crime actors are working 24/7 to break into it, you've been assured that none of this will never happen. By a commissioned salesguy who uses the word "transparency" a lot and spells "cloud" with a capital "C". Explain to the legal counsel (or hitmen, depending on the nature of the client) they've retained, that you were kidding about this. It's all a test. Really.

A frank and honest discussion with your staff and such such of your clients as remain, if any, at the end of the test period ought to give an indication of the true benefit of "cloud computing" to your business. Make sure to include the $1875 per month you've been paying in fees (based on 75 users at $25 per seat).

I'm not making any of this up. The only one of these scenarios that hasn't either already happened in some form to somebody, is in the process of happening now, or could be made to happen using skill sets readily obtainable in just about any high school in the developed world, is the last one.

Next time, I'll tell you why I think that notwithstanding the above, "cloud computing" in some form or other is probably the way to the future.

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