Cloud Crossroads

I feel like I am at a crossroads… and trying to figure out which direction to go. In my life, I strive to know about all kinds of things. Heck, in college, I went through 4-5 different majors because I was so interested in all of them. Computer Science and a Biology minor won out. So, when I come to this crossroad, I am torn… Which Cloud to go with?

The term “Cloud” is really confusing some times. While the basic concept is becoming more and more clear, what is not is that we have multiple Cloud types to contend with.

1) Datacenter Cloud – This makes perfect sense to me. My VMware experience and all of the VMware/virtualization kool-aid out there jives very well. The Datacenter Cloud is just like what I have in my datacenter. Just with some added layers of management and automation on top. I am cool with that.

2) Application Cloud – This is where I am getting lost… and, I feel like this may be where things are going, especially for environments sized like my Corporate environment. Application Clouds include Google Gmail, Salesforce Database.com, Google Docs, VMware/Salesforce VMforce, and Windows Live.

In my Corporate environment, we are trying to make a conscious decision to move towards Cloud based resources. We figure that if we can simplify the internal infrastructure to commodity components and start leveraging usage based hosted models, we can actually reap some of the benefits. Starting to acknowledge the trend now and make decisions based on the trend makes it easier to grow into a “Cloud” environment.

So, back to this darn crossroads… Datacenter Cloud or Application Cloud??

The biggest issue I am running into is my data in the Application Cloud. Like most applications, all of our applications need the app tier and the data tier. In the Application Cloud model, the database lives in one location and the app in another. Suddenly, not only do I need to worry about access times and experience for the end user getting to the application, but the access times between the various Cloud providers. AKA – things could be significantly slower.

Additionally, what about backing up the data and accessing those backups. We may have documented policies stating retention values, locations, etc… We all know that song and dance. However, each individual component theoretically operates individually.

Security become another issue to address with the Application Cloud environment. I “trust” that my data is secure. However, I am addressing security as credentials. Each service has their own authentication system. So, how do we, as IT professionals, manage these? Existing solutions provide for their own management structure (aka – web console for administration and creation of user-level accounts) or use agents that run on workstations for a pseudo-single sign-on experience. But, what I am looking for is some level of integration between my existing authentication mechanisms and what exists in the Cloud.

One of the final speedbumps in this Cloud crossroad conundrum is how can we ensure that our data is being backed up reliably and that restoration mechanisms are timely and accessible via my company versus needing to hunt down a Cloud provider support person? Many companies have regulations and policies regarding data retention and many Cloud providers cannot deal with those policies. Plus, the business may need to “feel in control” of their data.

Alright… the light is turning green… which way… WHICH WAY…???

I know, I have this awesome SUV, I am going to make my own path. Instead of left or right, I am going to forge straight ahead. With the direction we need to go, we cannot just chose one or another. There are too many advantages for both to ignore them… For those systems with their own authentication methods regardless of being hosted or internal, to the Application cloud with you! For those that we deem important to have more control over, Datacenter Cloud for you!

As long as we make a conscious decision to move towards some kind of Cloud based solution (be it Application Cloud or Datacenter Cloud), we are moving in the right direction. I feel confident that I am not the only one in the IT world with these concerns and the answers will come in good time. By moving towards Cloud infrastructure now, we can adapt when the technology advances and be more agile and lite. The development of policies that handle external authentication systems and data access (backups/recoveries/SLAs/etc…) and business buy in (perhaps with ROI and cost savings over alternatives) will help drive this path home… and perhaps the business will pay to pave this new road I am blazing. Otherwise, these darn bumps are going to kill me.

Happy Clouding!

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