Up in the Cloud - 10 Things About Cloud Computing You Don't Already Know

By Robert McGarvey

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They should have re-named this year's Interop "Up in the Cloud" because the dominant theme at this April's business computing show was the time has come for Cloud computing. And yet there remains so much that many of us -- CIOs very much included -- still don't get about this fundamental shift of computing out of the office, off the desktop and into the Cloud. So, to clear the air (no pun intended), here are 10 facts gleaned from Interop keynoters and panelists that just may be news to you:

"It's the most important thing happening": Lenny Heymann, longtime Interop GM, set the agenda in his opening remarks before an SRO audience at the first-day's keynote. "Cloud computing is changing how we do business. This is a platform change that will allow businesses to be more agile." That's the point. Cloud computing isn't about better computing -- although it may be that, too -- it is about agility. For businesses today, that is key. Plodding businesses die, the agile survive.

This shift is inevitable: By 2012 only 21 percent of businesses will not use Cloud computing, said one speaker. A related factoid out of Gartner is that, by 2012, 20 percent of businesses will own no IT assets. Everything will be Cloud-based and leased.

Collaboration in the Cloud: Fueling the shift into Cloud computing is the need for real-time collaboration tools that let workers, in many locations, work with the same document. Already Google Docs and Lotus Live are designed with Cloud collaboration in mind. Microsoft's Office 2010, too, pounces on this tool set. Cloud collaboration just may be the office worker want for 2011. The goal: making file sharing in the Cloud every bit as easy as it now is to type in a URL.

The consumer Internet enters the enterprise: "The Cloud started in the consumer Internet," said Interop keynoter Kristof Kloeckner, an IBM vice president and CTO of Cloud Computing. Many users have gained familiarity with the Cloud by using Web-based email (HotMail to GMail) and later Google Docs. They work, so why not in enterprise? This, incidentally, emerged as another big Interop theme: business users want the same computing-Internet experience in the office that they enjoy at home but, in many workplaces, this just isn't so.

Pinch the pennies: IBM's Kloeckner said that an enterprise using Cloud based tools will save 20 to 30 percent compared to one using traditional tools. That huge discount is a key spark for the rapid-fire triumph of Cloud computing.

Multiple models: Most Interop speakers envision a coming world of many Cloud types -- notably public Clouds (shared spaces, accessible by many users from many places); private Clouds (built out for one organization that does not want to share resources with others); and hybrids, which mix some public assets with some private (perhaps employee health insurance records are stored in a private Cloud but archives from last month's sales meeting are stashed in a public Cloud). Sound confusing? The confusion is unavoidable right now as organizations test their comfort levels with the various Cloud options. As they get clearer, the picture of Cloud computing will jump into focus.

Security remains worry No. 1: The primary roadblock to wider Cloud deployment remains security concerns: every bit as valid today as they were a year ago. Clouds certainly can be and are secure, but not all Clouds always are and not all CIOs are yet persuaded. Another worry for some CIOs is the fear of lock-in, of commitment to a particular Cloud vendor. (Note similarities to lock-in to an outsourcing provider or proprietary software vendors.)

Mobility goes with the Cloud: The absolute best place to deploy mobile tech to users, and to store their work, is in the Cloud. Nothing is anywhere near as reliable and fast once users go mobile and especially not as they switch to handheld mobile devices.

Blowing in the wind: Many speakers admitted it: "Cloud computing" sounds, well, undependable, fragile. And almost nobody knows how it differs from software as a service (SaaS). Don't ask what the new name will be, but don't be surprised when "Cloud computing" slips out of the language and something new seeps up.

Take off your Czar Crown: Overheard at Interop is that, as the Cloud becomes ascendant, IT stops being a monopoly controlled by an an internal department " ... and the CIO is no longer czar." Ouch. But that is what the man said.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications―from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.