People know all about the cloud's benefits. But the technology also throws up a number of business issues that may be less well recognised.
These days it's hard to find anyone with a bad word for the cloud. After all, who could find fault with a technology that seems to offer cheap, scalable computing that reacts to business needs?
Even concerns about issues such as data security seem to be receding in some areas of the business community, although the question of vendor lock-in remains on the table.
But beyond the well-known benefits and flaws lie a number of less obvious business issues, which were addressed by a panel of experts at the recent DLA Piper tech summit in London.1. Feature creep
To keep attracting new customers, vendors of software as a service (SaaS) continually add features to their products. Consequently, the functionality that's built into a particular piece of software can end up changing every few months.
Phil Wainewright, vice president of industry group EuroCloud, said he recently encountered one organisation that had felt the impact of these constant changes.
"The business people would say, 'Oh, we want that new feature. Can we add it into the project?' Or the developers would say, 'Oh, we were building our own version of that and now it's in the product'. It really added a lot of stress and work to the project," he said.
Wainewright argued that the solution to this particular problem is to cut the scheme down into a much smaller iterative project: "They had headaches that they could have avoided with a shorter implementation timescale and a reduced scope in the initial implementation."2. Under the radar cloud procurement
One of the benefits of the cloud is ease with which organisations can dip in and out of cloud services for development, specific tasks and pilots. But ad hoc purchases can get out of hand.
KPMG IT advisory director Derek Kay said the answer must be to think about cloud strategically because exploiting it tactically can have undesirable consequences.
"If you're not careful, you have little skunkworks cropping up all over the place - little cloud pilots - if you don't keep things under control."
Proper control comes from an enterprise sponsoring and encouraging the use of cloud, otherwise people will just find a way of just doing it anyway. "They'll either put it on a credit card and pretend it's a sandwich, and you'll have a few servers running before you even know it and you'll have very porous boundaries," Kay said.
He argued that it's important to understand strategically how an organisation is going to cope with things such as ad hoc cloud procurement and frequent changes of functionality. Businesses also have to understand the knock-on effects outside the IT world.
"If you're sitting in a purchasing department now you might be signing off invoices to pay for quite large IT bills on a monthly or quarterly basis, and there aren't very many of them. You can manage that volume," Kay said.
"If all of a sudden you're getting things that look more like mobile phone bills that say, 'This person had a server for a week and it's going to cost you £3.50', are you actually geared up to deal with all those? Can you validate that you ever bought that service in the first place? Can you actually tell that the organisation that's billing you is a valid organisation to be doing that?"
These knock-on effects of the cloud on the end-user community can also relate to data and information and how that might be contained and controlled or released, rather than allowed to escape.3. Cloud legacy problems
Many organisations are grappling with the issue of legacy systems. It's an area where companies can bring cloud services to bear with beneficial consequences, according to Accenture chief technology architect Paul Daugherty.
"The ability to integrate cloud services across legacy systems and legacy data is really where you drive up business value," he said.
But failure to approach the cloud in a structured manner can turn the technology into part of the problem.
"There's one customer that we're working with right now that has a critical SaaS application. They're running 80 instances of it globally. It looks very much like legacy on-premise technology," Daugherty said.
"Eighty different instances of a software-as-a-service application that they now need to get some common governance into and integrate, which is not unlike a legacy challenge that a lot of companies face."