It's no secret that cloud computing has transformed the way enterprises do business. It has changed the way developers write software and users interact with applications. By now, almost every business organization has a strategy on how to adopt the cloud. Those who don’t will soon be extinct. The influence of the cloud has been so phenomenal, that it truly has turned into a "take it or die" kind of a deal over the last few years.
It is also no secret that today the cloud movement is steered by a handful of giants in the IT industry. Companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce are clearly among this elite group. These companies, their products and vision have been instrumental in the introduction, evolution and the popularization of the cloud technology.
With that being the case, we must think about the implications of cloud computing on the current IT landscape of the world. Are all S&M organizations around the world going to get rid of their server racks and transfer their IT infrastructure to Amazon EC2? Are all Web applications and mobile applications going to be based on Google App Engine APIs? Are all enterprise data going to end up in Amazon S3 and Google Megastore? What sort of defenses are in place to prevent a few IT giants from monopolizing the entire IT infrastructure and services market? How easy it would be for us to migrate from one cloud vendor to another? All these are indeed very real and very important problems that all organizations should take under careful consideration.
Fortunately there are several practical solutions to all the above issues. One is openness and standardization. Cloud platforms that are based on open standards and protocols should be preferred over those that use proprietary standards and protocols. Open standards and protocols are likely to be supported by more than just one cloud vendor thus enabling the users to migrate between different vendors easily. Also, in many cases open standards make it easier to port existing standalone applications to the cloud. Take a Java web application for an example. Most Java web applications are based on the J2EE suite of standards (JSP, Servlets, JDBC etc.). If the target cloud platform also supports these open standards, the user can easily migrate his J2EE app to the cloud without having to make too many changes. Similarly he can easily migrate the app from one cloud platform to another as long as both platforms support the same J2EE standards.
Speaking of openness, cloud platforms that are open source and distributed under liberal licenses should get extra credit over closed source ones. Open source cloud platforms allow the user to modify and shape the platform according to the user requirements, rather than forcing the user to change their apps according to the changes made by the cloud platform vendor. Also, with an open source cloud framework, users will be in a position to maintain and support the platform on their own, in a situation where the original vendor decides to discontinue support for the platform.
Another possible solution is to use a hybrid cloud approach instead of solely relying on a remote public cloud maintained by a third party vendor. A hybrid cloud approach typically involves a private cloud maintained by the user, and then selectively bursting into the public cloud to handle high availability and high scalability scenarios. This method does involve some additional expenses and legwork on the user's part but the user ultimately remains in control of his data and applications, and no third party vendor can take that away from the user. Also as far as most S&M organizations are concerned, what they expect from the cloud are features like multi-tenancy, self-provisioning, optimal resource utilization and auto-scaling. Spending a few bucks on running a server rack or two to make that happen is usually not a big deal. Most companies do that today anyway. However, from a technical standpoint, we need easy-to-deploy, easy-to-maintain and reliable private cloud frameworks, which are compatible with popular public cloud platforms to really take advantage of this hybrid cloud model. Fortunately, thanks to some excellent work by a few start-ups like Eucalyptus and AppScale, this is no longer an issue. These vendors provide highly competitive private cloud and hybrid cloud solutions that are fully compatible with widely used public cloud platforms such as AWS and Google App Engine. If the user is capable of procuring the necessary hardware resources and manpower, these cloud platforms can even be used to setup fully-fledged private clouds that have all the bells and whistles of popular public clouds. That’s a great way to bask in the glory of the cloud, while maintaining full ownership and control over your enterprise IT assets.
Software frameworks like Apache JClouds provide another approach for dealing with potential risks of the cloud. These software frameworks allow user's code to interact with multiple heterogeneous cloud platforms by abstracting out the differences between various clouds. If we consider JClouds, as of now it supports close to 30 different cloud platforms including AWS, OpenStack and Rackspace. This implies that any application written using JClouds can be executed on around 30 different cloud platforms without having to make any code changes. As the influence of the cloud continues to grow, developers should seriously consider writing their code using high-level APIs like JClouds, without getting tied into a single specific cloud platform.
Cloud has certainly changed the way we all think about IT and computing. While its benefits are quite attractive, it also comes with a few potential risks. Users and developers should think carefully, plan ahead and take preventive action soon to avoid these pitfalls.