Head in the Clouds, Feet Firmly on the Ground

Head in the Clouds, Feet Firmly on the Ground

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”
– George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish playwright, Nobel laureate.

Often, at management seminars, speakers talk about “dreaming with your eyes open.” Leaving aside the fact that a literal interpretation can actually be harmful – imagine dreaming with your eyes open when driving – what they try to convey is to think of the possibilities while being grounded in reality. In other words, be careful.

However, there’s something as being too careful. Smaller customers of cloud computing are behaving in a similar fashion if the results of a recent study are anything to go by. While embracing the cloud and allowing their data to be stored remotely, they still can’t get over the loss of physical control. Hence, the preference for local data centers.

This is the finding of a recent Microsoft survey carried out among 3,258 companies across 16 countries. Conducted in association with technology consultancy Edge Strategies, this survey found that 82% of the respondents would consider local presence of the vendor as “highly important” when it came to choice of cloud computing services.

I had referenced this survey, titled “SMB Cloud Adoption Study 2011” in an earlier article. (See: Microsoft Study Says 40% of SMBs to Go On Cloud within 3 Years) While the criticality of local presence was mentioned, the article focused more on the fact that “39% of SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses) expect to be paying for one or more cloud services within three years.” Now, I would like to discuss this “local” factor in further detail.

In my opinion, this stipulation defeats many of the advantages of going on the cloud. While the consumer may get some benefits of decreased costs and increased efficiencies, many advantages like redundancy and scalability are lost, especially if the local data centers are limited in size and capability. Such a move is akin to handing over the operation of your own data center to a third party, and not much more.

Think about it. All your data is in a single local data center. There’s a sudden fire that destroys that data center, and consequently, your data as well. Replace fire with any natural disaster, even man-made ones like a disgruntled employee or an unscrupulous competitor, and it’s the same story. Essentially, you are putting all your eggs in one basket. So, how have you protected yourself by going on the cloud? With multiple data centers spread across multiple locations, you are protected.

See: Earthquakes and Cloud Computing

See: Is Cloud Computing Secure? Yes, Another Perspective

Here’s another thought. You are the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a SMB that wants to go on the cloud, and as per the results of the Microsoft study, choose a vendor with a local data center. In one fell swoop, you’ve eliminated many vendors from contention just because they do not have data centers nearby, some of whom could have actually served your needs better. In other words, you are yourself responsible for restricting your options.

Here’s another hypothetical scenario to push my case. Suppose there’s a no-name cloud computing vendor with a local presence and there’s Amazon with a data center 2,000 miles away. Do you reject an established leader in cloud computing like Amazon to opt for a “local” vendor just because it’s local? Cloud computing is not plumbing where all providers have the same skills and proximity is important.

I believe that SMBs suffer from a mistaken sense of security if data centers are local. It’s not that they can do something useful if something goes wrong – if there’s a fire at the fire station you don’t advise the firemen how to deal with it – it’s just that proximity to their data gives them comfort. However, for that false sense of comfort, they end up jeopardizing their business.

The whole idea of cloud computing is opening up avenues not accessible through traditional IT infrastructure, leveraging the power of the World Wide Web to the optimum level. With the “go local” mentality, this idea is negated. However, as the field matures, I am confident that this attitude will evaporate.

By Sourya Biswas

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