Unseen barriers to cloud adoption

Security and reliability are two issues that continue to concern those reluctant to embrace cloud technology. Thoran Rodrigues discusses some of the less obvious barriers to adoption and how they might be overcome.

There are several related enterprise concerns that slow down the adoption of cloud computing by companies, especially the large ones. First, there is the matter of security. Many companies are still unconvinced about the security of cloud environments, and unwilling to take any kind of risk, be it with their data or even with test environments. Another relevant concern is the issue of reliability. Cloud providers, especially the most prominent ones, haven't exactly displayed stellar past performance in terms of the uptime of their systems, and no IT department wants to be responsible for something that is out of their control.

Another important issue is the matter of cost. Vendors have spent a long time trying to convince everyone that moving to the cloud can result in huge cost savings, while this is not entirely true. The cloud can result in cost savings when used in the proper manner, but that is not true for all use cases. At the same time, many companies have made large investments in internal data centers, and they can't simply throw that out the window.

But these are only the most obvious barriers to cloud adoption, and they don't affect every company. Small and medium companies that haven't made significant investments in technology, and startups, should be jumping at the opportunity to hire virtual computing capacity from cloud providers: it reduces the need for initial investment and gives access to large-scale resources to anyone on a pay-as-you-go model. This is especially true for companies outside the US-Europe axis, where hardware and software costs are much higher and easy access to computing resources is much higher. So what other barriers are there?

Geographical and infrastructure barriers

The largest cloud vendors are companies located in the US. This is even truer for IaaS vendors: the top two contenders in this space, Amazon and Rackspace, are both American companies, based in the U.S. and with most of their operations there. This by itself creates several barriers for companies from outside the U.S. to adopt their services.

The first is a legal barrier. Many countries impose severe restrictions on what kind of data about its citizens can leave their national territory. For companies in these countries, adopting a cloud provider outside their national barriers is simply impossible if they want to comply with national legislation. Even in countries where there are no such laws, there is great concern about what happens when the data is stored in another country. Does it become subject to seizure laws of the hosting country? How do I comply with all the privacy legislation? While legal frameworks are slowly being created to answer these questions, there still isn't any definitive answer.

Another important barrier created by geographical separation is the language barrier. Outside of the U.S., the lack of support for cloud services in other languages becomes a real limiter to the adoption of these services, since companies can't always find people who can speak English, let alone those who are confident enough in their language skills to be able to discuss details of such critical services. Another issue that the language barrier generates is a possible misunderstanding of service provider's offerings. Non-native speakers can misunderstand several things in an offer as complex as those of cloud services, from the proposed SLA and features to limitations.

The last barrier to widespread adoption is related to infrastructure. One of the basic assumptions of cloud-based services is that users have quality access to the Internet in order to be able to access and consume their services. In several countries around the world, however, this isn't a reality. Internet access is really poor, if not non-existent, and potential customers simply have no way of reaching the available services. Another related issue is latency. If a company is looking to use cloud resources in operational processes that require transferring a lot of data back-and-forth, a slow connection with high latency can become a problem.

Overcoming barriers

Several of these barriers aren't exclusive to countries outside the U.S. and Europe. In many places in the U.S. itself, Internet connections aren't reliable enough that companies can use entirely cloud-based services. The language barrier exists even for countries in Europe where English isn't the first (or even second) language for the population. And a similar thing happens with the legislation. There is a regulatory "mess" surrounding countries from every continent.

Several different avenues are being adopted to solve these problems. Some are quite obvious: large cloud providers are opening data centers in several locations around the world, so that they can host data at any location their customers require. They are also making available Content Delivery Networks that can reduce the latency of content delivery to client applications or other locations. Governments are creating legal frameworks to facilitate the transference and hosting of content in separate locations.

We're also seeing the appearance of "local" cloud providers, focused on helping their home markets in ways that the large vendors can't compete with. These usually come in two "flavors": Local resellers, who simply resell the services of larger vendors with support and other services in the local language; and regional players, who build their data centers locally and thus can (theoretically, at least) offer better latency and connection speeds. No matter the path taken, however, overcoming these barriers is fundamental to achieving widespread cloud adoption.


After working for a database company for 8 years, Thoran Rodrigues took the opportunity to open a cloud services company. For two years his company has been providing services for several of the largest e-commerce companies in Brazil, and over this t...

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