The latest darling of the tech industry, cloud computing, has been embraced by vendors everywhere—from Microsoft, with offerings such as the Azure platform and SQL Data Services (SDS), to VMware with their Virtual Datacenter OS and Cloud vServices. Many industry pundits believe that cloud computing is an inevitable trend that businesses of all sizes will eventually follow. However, there are some conservative voices saying that cloud computing is just the latest flash in the pan, and it will never replace on-premises computing.

Problems with the Cloud

In my editorial “Up in the Air Over Cloud Computing,” December 2008, InstantDoc ID 100580, I admitted skepticism about cloud computing. Although I saw that the cloud could provide some cost savings, I felt that potential problems with availability, reliability, and security would offset those benefits. If my experiences this morning are any indication, I was right on the money. My normally rock-solid Internet connection has been up and down like a yo-yo. Perhaps it’s karmic retribution.

Readers from IT Shops Speak Out

Many of you wrote responses to my editorial. Without exception, all of the feedback from IT shops came from readers who were skeptical about cloud computing and would either avoid it or limit its use. For example, Pete Revell notes that with cloud computing “you don’t have the type of control over the servers that you have for on-premises equipment. On the shared server, we have to put up with other databases’ periodic increased workloads—SQL’s slow again today. And they have to put up with ours—‘Those xxxxs are running their month-end processing again!’”

Vishal Gamji likes the concept behind the cloud but had concerns about reliability and the user’s experience: “Personally, I would like to develop applications, implement databases and serve them in the cloud, but, when I place myself in the shoes of a consumer subscribing to application/data in the cloud I become paranoid, thinking: What if the service goes down? What if the Internet is down? Then my critical business app would be hit. Furthermore, why should I trust someone else to handle my data. Is it safe?—Too many complications.”

Troy Latterell also shares concerns about security. He writes, “I also have never believed the Internet was secure or reliable enough even today to allow this. If DNS, IP, routing, firewalls, antivirus, spamming, phishing, SQL injection and ALL the other things can be taken care of—OK. Maybe then.”

A Specialized Use

Michael Dragone sees a specialized use for cloud computing as a way to address disaster recovery scenarios, saying “I’m most interested in the cloud when it comes to SQL Server in the area of disaster recovery. Now, many organizations have an offsite datacenter or collocation space that they populate with old servers and equipment ‘just in case.’ This equipment is itself a disaster. Those that can afford new, modern equipment often feel that they’ve made a wasteful financial investment, like a life insurance policy that they hope is never cashed in.”

A Vendor Speaks

I did hear from some proponents of cloud computing, but not too surprisingly these comments were all vendors selling cloud services. One vendor, Jerry Foster, points out that “Doubts over cloud-computing's ability to secure data and provide uptime that rival internal networks have long since fallen by the wayside, at least for us. Are these valid concerns? Sure. But in my opinion, not any more so than with on-site software, which, as we know, often has similar problems with connectivity and lack of security. So the real issue then, is, not the platform, but the ability of your software provider to prove they can deliver security and uptime, while leveraging the advantages of their platform and methodology.”

Whither the Cloud?

It’s clear that cloud computing is far from a done deal. Even vendors with lots of clout like Microsoft and VMware have a way to go before selling the IT profession on moving from an on-premises solution to the cloud. Although cloud computing may not be IT’s silver bullet, I think it’s not just a flash in the pan, either, because it attempts to capitalize on today’s killer application—the ubiquitous Internet. What do you think? Are you in an IT shop that’s embracing the cloud? Drop me a line at mikeo@sqlmag.com. I’d love to hear your side of the story.