Cloud computing is one of the most significant changes to take place in the computing, communications and datacentre worlds over the last few years.

In essence, cloud computing is remote hosting, with a user application running on someone else's virtualised servers in a remote location within a datacentre rather than the user's own machine on his own premises.

While the concept of cloud computing is not new, it is still in its infancy, with many providers offering different and incompatible services in different ways.

Moving to the cloud

In general, applications which work well in cloud today are ones where data communications traffic is light and not particularly time critical, where security is important (and it always is) but not critical, where a new application can be written especially for the cloud implementation and where fast scalability gives a worthwhile benefit to the user.

Although cloud is continuously evolving, there are some areas which many organisations still steer away from putting there today. The biggest concern for all cloud users was originally security and this remains the case, in spite of strenuous efforts by software vendors.

If the organisation's mission critical computing and corporate intellectual property is on site or in a professionally managed colocation data centre, behind a corporate firewall, with known and trusted staff in control of it, management feels the risk of theft or unauthorised disclosure is less than if it is in another location, under the control of unknown staff who may or may not put the company's key interests first.

If something goes wrong, the company's own staff will work through the night to put it right, whereas management may not trust an outside provider to deliver the same commitment. Perhaps those fears are not justified, but research continues to show they remain real.

Hurdles

Another area requiring much care is anything involving real time data traffic, such as voice telephony. Whilst it is certainly possible to run voice over the open public internet (Skype does it all the time), running it to a guaranteed and consistent level of quality is quite different.

In such cases, users are better avoiding public cloud and sticking with known specialised colocation data centres - especially the London colocation data centres with a wide range of carrier connections and experience - or going to a specialised provider of hosted communications, who will certainly be located in such a facility.

Like the introduction of any new way of working, cloud throws up unexpected problems. But the long term benefits are sufficiently high for both users and providers that, over time, most of the objections and barriers will be overcome.

Cloud computing in commercial data centres is unquestionably the way computing is going and will continue to go. But some computing, IT and communications applications are more suited to cloud implementation than others.

A future in the cloud

Choosing which to implement first, and which will work well in practice, requires skill and forethought, but will be rewarded with a steady, reliable migration, easier maintenance and lower operating costs.

For many organisations, there may never be a full migration, as mission critical and security critical applications remain in house and other run remotely in the facilities of cloud providers.

The way in which organisations employ people has changed over the last fifty years. The model of a 1960's organisation was one where everyone was a full-time employee.

Today it is one where the business is run by a small, tight team pulling in self-employed specialists and subcontractors as and when needed.

Perhaps the future model for IT is the same – a small core of IT in-house handling the mission-critical operations, guarding critical data and corporate intellectual property and drawing in less critical or specialised services remotely, in real time, from cloud providers located in remote data centres as and when needed.

  • Roger Keenan is managing director of Central London data centre City Lifeline.