Dark side of the cloud: What's stopping more firms making the move?

Why the shift to cloud computing may take longer than you think

Along with the familiar barriers to cloud adoption, such as security and vendor lock-in, there are a number of less obvious challenges giving some CIOs pause for thought. Mark Samuels reports.

Listen to the vendors and on-demand computing is presented as an unstoppable force that is set to change technology provision quickly and irrevocably.

Check the research and that representation certainly appears credible, with analyst house IDC estimating that companies spend £10.7bn a year on cloud IT services worldwide and that the market will be worth £27bn by 2013. But while the numbers might sound impressive, IT leaders wishing to transfer services to the cloud face significant challenges.

Executives rapidly discover a dark side to the cloud, where concepts of on-demand technology are confused, trust is constrained and understanding is limited. "I find the whole debate about cloud as interesting as the debate about service-oriented architecture," says Stuart Curley, chief technology architect at the Royal Mail. "It doesn't keep me awake at night but it does send me to sleep."

Powers of on-demand technology
Such a summary is hardly glowing recognition for the supposed powers of on-demand technology. It is also the type of comment that is likely to dismay hype-happy vendors and raise a chuckle of recognition from IT leaders, a community of executives who are bored by the industry's continued push of three-letter acronyms and un-business friendly marketing concepts.

So, what about the cloud? Is on-demand computing really something different or just the latest over-hyped technology concept? "I'm not that interested in IT," Curley told a recent BT roundtable event about cloud computing. "I'm interested in the performance the organisation requires. Technology is just an enabler. IT must be designed with the business in mind - we need real alignment."

Senior IT executives dabbling with on-demand recognise that a number of elements could prevent the cloud from being adopted quickly and easily. Five factors - security, reliability, network latency, integration and management - are regularly cited as being the greatest inhibitors to the wider take-up of cloud technology.

From data compliance to network provision, CIOs are regularly confronted with articles and presentations that outline the biggest inhibitors to the growth of cloud computing.

However, if you speak to IT leaders you quickly discover that the five strands are simply a starting point - and CIOs should expect to encounter issues relating to trust, staffing, sustainability, migration and vendor pain.

Essential issues of trust
It's a point that chimes with Easynet CIO David Doherty, a technology leader who has introduced cloud methods to clients and in his own business.

For example, he recently moved eight different internal mail servers to a single virtualised platform. His message, from his own experiences of introducing on-demand technology and from talking to other CIOs, is simple: think about trust.

"If everything is working well, you'll take a slower migratory path to cloud," Doherty said. "Some people are happy to use software as a service for something life Salesforce; others are not happy with the idea of holding any core data outside the firewall. It's about CIOs wondering if they will get fined if all, or any, of these elements go wrong and it's about trust and a consideration of your current problems."

IT leaders, then, will need to establish their organisation's propensity for risk and then decide on their migratory path to the cloud. That path is likely to become increasingly...

By Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.