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Cloud Computing Reality Check

Lots of fresh research is coming out on the state of cloud computing. The following data points provide a snapshot of user attitudes in this fast-moving market.
I met recently with more than 50 business technologists to talk about cloud computing, and two things became clear. First, the interest level is very high, and IT pros have plans that go well beyond Web-based applications. Second, everyone has their own list of issues to resolve before they take that step.The venue for the get-together was our annual InformationWeek 500 conference, which was held over two days last week in Monarch Beach, Calif. I participated in two cloud computing sessions at the event, one an "unconference" where attendees gathered around tables to talk in an unstructured peer-to-peer format about whatever was on their minds, and the second a deep dive into cloud computing trends based on research from InformationWeek Analytics, the part of our business that publishes in-depth reports on a range of topics. (You can register and download InformationWeek Analytics and Reports here, including our new Cloud Computing Analytics report for a fee.)

Following is a recap of some of what was discussed during those two sessions:

• One big question people had was how to go about integrating cloud-based applications and data with on-premises applications and data. This will be an issue for virtually any company moving into the cloud. As just one example of how that might be done, SnapLogic offers integration packs designed to work with some software as a service applications. InformationWeek will take a deeper dive into this subject in the next few weeks.

• A related issue is data quality. As companies move e-mail and other applications into the cloud, the integration points (Active Directory, for example) will become weak links and IT problems if your data isn't clean.

• There are a range of IT governance issues, not the least of which is e-discovery. Some questions that came up: How do you run e-discovery against hosted e-mail? And what privacy protections are in place so that your company's legal experts can access what's needed, but not the cloud service provider? Another way of looking at this is the "chain of custody" of your corporate data in the cloud.

• The point was made that many IT departments overlook or underestimate the network bandwidth requirements for cloud computing. One CIO said he increased network capacity by a factor of five when he moved some of his company's IT workload into Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud. That's not a rule of thumb for everyone, but it's a good example of what one company had to do.

• There were a lot of questions, and not many answers, on service level agreements. It became clear that IT pros need to do their homework on SLAs as they shop among cloud service options.

All of this doesn't mean that IT departments won't move to cloud computing, but it's a reminder that a fair amount of planning and roll-up-your-shirtsleeves work may be required. It's tempting to think that on-demand, Internet-based software and services are like flipping on a switch. For small projects that may be true, but for enterprise IT, it's seldom the case.