July 29, 2009
Cloud computing is still a long way from becoming a mainstream technology because of persistent fears about security and reliability that are stoked by entrenched vendors at every opportunity.All it takes is one well-publicized security breach or a lengthy outage for the I-told-you-sos to come pouring in, often from ignorant columnists fed misinformation by vendors with an ax to grind, with the overall effect of causing the fear, uncertainty and doubt intimated by my headline.
It was barely two weeks ago that the theft of Twitter documents made the rounds of the Maury Povitches of the tech world, and the fall-out will have the half-life of plutonium. If you don't believe me, realize that the Google outage from earlier this year is still used by half-informed pundits as a bullhorn to decry the role of software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing in the demise of American business. Simon Dumenco of Advertising Age is so scared by the specter of Google Docs taking over the world that he offers this jeremiad to the IT gods: what happens when 10% or 20% (or, heck, 75%) of, say, all U.S. small businesses come to depend on Google Apps and there's an outage of two hours or six hours or eight hours? What happens when 10% or 20% or 75% of U.S. small businesses effectively have an entire workday wiped out, thanks to Google cloud downtime? Cascading ... flop sweat. Tears. Screaming. Desperation. Apocalypse. Nothing less than apocalypse. No one seems to remember that corporate networks (NT in particular) would regularly go down for hours at a time, and, combined with the rage for thin clients, bring work grinding to a halt. That was the 1990s, when economic growth and labor productivity were at their zenith, and no one doubted that networked computers were, for all their flaws and growing pains, the future. Why are things so different today, when cloud computing is just as obviously the future? Okay, corporate networks involve just one company, while the cloud involves, well, a lot of people. But that doesn't explain the virulence and the visceral nature of the reaction. What's really happened is that in the 1990s, there weren't as many legacy vendors about to be displaced by a new computing paradigm. Software powerhouses like Microsoft and Oracle, and hardware vendors like Intel, HP and Compaq saw nothing but upside (and upsells) in the changes afoot. So when Network Solutions revealed its data breach of Friday, I got an email over the weekend from Amichai Shulman, the CTO of Imperva, with the subject line: "Network Solutions breach highlights fundamental problems of cloud computing." The panic he was mongering: once hackers have "penetrated the cloud... [they've] got an easy path to the important, underlying data." There's not much more that cloud computing vendors can do to minimize outages and secure their data other than get slowly better over time. But in order to fight the FUD, they'll have to get further out front of their issues and communicate more quickly and openly. Given that their businesses are built on the Web, that shouldn't be too hard for them to do.
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