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» Enterprise IT Planet » Security » Security Features

When the Cloud Storms on You

By Sonny Discini
August 27, 2008

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Improvements to Web infrastructure have allowed cloud computing to prosper. Now firms can run applications online, allowing their employees to be far more flexible. This, of course, changes how we utilize technology as it relates to the business process.

You may well have come across cloud computing and its various subgroups under other headings: utility computing, software-as-a-service, and application service providers. What is common to them all is the way that they challenge the traditional boundaries of an IT department. It is irrelevant where the hardware and software that supports the service is situated. They exist somewhere in the cloud, and that could easily be a data center in Luton or a server in Hawaii.

If a company relies on Google Apps for its e-mail, its IT and business managers have little to do when a Gmail outage hits them, and, with end-users demanding explanations, this waiting game can be a very stressful situation.

Leading edge organizations have already taken a leap of faith and moved to a cloud model for their production environments. Those same folks have felt the sting of what conservative IT professionals have warned about when cloud computing came to fruition.

Google is a major player in the cloud computing space. With its Apps hosted suite of communications and collaboration applications, Google is a leading proponent of software-as-a-service (SaaS), an emerging model of software delivery that backers say represents the future. Just don't tell this to the millions that suffered when Gmail and Apple's MobileMe mail went down for hours.

Admins scrambled to keep businesses rolling during the outage while also feeling left in the lurch because no information was immediately available about the cause of the outage. Stings like this have a far-reaching impact on companies pitching cloud computing services. How many organizations were left second-guessing the viability of cloud computing after an incident like this?

One administrator said, "For me as the Google Apps administrator, the disruption was pretty damn irritating. Aside from getting kicked out of e-mail I need to do my own job, it also forced me to completely refocus on figuring out what's happening with Gmail and Google Apps."

If a company relies on Google Apps for its e-mail, its IT and business managers have little to do when a Gmail outage hits them, and, with end-users demanding explanations, this waiting game can be a very stressful situation. On top of that, there is no recourse this time or if future outages occur.

Apple has it a little bit worse. While Google offers their cloud computing solutions for free, Apple actually charges users for the use of their cloud infrastructure. Many people were left questioning why they were paying for something that can vanish for 7 hours. Organizations can at least bite Apple where it hurts when the cloud fails – in the wallet.

Google and Apple aren't alone in their cloud woes. Amazon also had a scrape with its cloud infrastructure recently. Tons of porn spam and junk e-mail laced with computer viruses are actively being blasted from digital real estate leased to Amazon.

All of the spam came from Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) servers, which are marketed to companies that want to purchase access to any number of computer applications hosted on the Internet, from data crunching and storage to on-demand computer processing power. However, in this case, the power was harnessed by online criminal gangs looking to pump out everything from malware to spam.

What's worse about the Amazon incident is that their cloud computing platform made it on to various blacklists, which of course provides a denial-of-service condition for all those who utilize the platform. This is a sure recipe for complete meltdown when businesses are not only relying on Amazon for their production needs, but also paying for it much like those poor Apple customers.

But not everyone is convinced these events are tragic. In fact, some point out that outages always happen and they aren't in the position to respond to the outages with the speed and resource pool that these big players bring to the table.

One admin said, "No one's happy when there's downtime, but there's always downtime. I've seen Exchange go down often. Many times you're left to your own IT people to fix it. That can be good or bad. I'd rather it be Google's problem. They've got a world-class team. Their reputation is on the line. Over time, they're going to get better and better."

This is a powerful argument for those providing cloud offerings.

To sum it up, the strengths of cloud computing, such as customization, significantly reduced costs and ease of use seem to at the very least give cloud computing a second chance to redeem itself. Many organizations, though miffed at the disruptions of late, all seem to feel that over time Google and others will strengthen their infrastructure and continue to refine their offerings.

Once this happens, the early growing pains of cloud computing will likely be distant and insignificant memories.


Cloud computing: A catchphrase in puberty - The Register

Behind the Cloud: Computing as a Utility - Enterprise Security Today

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