Cloud computing perspectives and questions

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The World Economic Forum started a research project at Davos 2009 concerning cloud computing, which they broadly define to include all kinds of remote services, from Software as a Service to virtual machines.

Andy Oram was asked to provide some ideas on the implications of cloud computing on business as well as its future operating environment. This wiki is a discussion forum where anyone with relevant and valid ideas can suggest points for his reply.

Contents

Resilience

  • What degree of geographic distribution offers sufficient safety for:
    • Individuals or small companies
    • Major corporations and organizations with reliability requirements
    • Defense and other sensitive government functions
  • Benefits of automatically distributing files, perhaps among multiple vendors (example; Cleversafe)
  • Potential targets for attack in war or by terror
  • Should there be resilience standards?

Portability

  • Importance: Backups are recommended for persistent data to another system or service outside of the cloud.
  • Feasibility: All APIs can be emulated, so in theory organizations can use the same scripts and procedures to replicate operations in multiple services
  • Trends: There are calls for "open cloud computing," referring to standards that would facilitate portability.
    • Standards could lead to automatic, instant migration between cloud vendors.
    • As with all standardization, it's hard to:
      • Get vendors to cooperate on advances that would reduce client lock-in
      • Slow down innovation in an emerging technology enough to produce a standard

Benefits and drawbacks for potential clients

  • Total reliance on a cloud service (virtual machine services or SaaS)
    • May be valuable for start-ups and skunkworks
    • For larger organizations, useful for some well-defined functions,

particularly non-critical ones. (But note that many companies use services for customer relations management and for paying employees, which could be considered critical functions.)

    • Requires a thorough understanding of the cloud service's

operations, the risks involved, and management techniques to handle the service and its risks.

  • Use of cloud to supplement in-house operations
    • May be useful for:
      • Handling peaks and spikes
      • Planning growth that will eventually be moved in-house
    • Requires skills in both domains (in-house and cloud) as well as

strategies for migrating and replicating between them.

Environmental implications

  • Energy trade-offs between concentrated megaservers and smaller systems distributed around the world.
  • Impacts on localities where huge server farms are built.

Free software

  • Cloud eviscerates software freedom:
    • New software and patches can be built on free software while still

being hidden behind the cloud (except free software under the rarely used Affero GPL).

    • (Mostly in regard to Saas) Even releasing the source code would

have little to no effect, because the real lock-in for cloud services is its role as central repository: storing the data and (for sites with community aspects) providing connections among different visitors.

  • Solutions:
    • Open formats so clients can extract data and reuse it elsewhere
    • Cost and time to develop new software has decreased so much that

SaaS features are no longer such a big selling point (see article, Free software meets corporate needs, including Software as a Service

    • As alternative to centralized services, promote radically

distributed systems

      • Individuals maintain control of their own data and data processing

and peer with others to share data and processing.

      • Requires heightened identity and validation technologies (see articles

From P2P to Web Services: Addressing and Coordination and From P2P to Web Services: Trust

Government use

  • Use of popular cloud services (such as Google Docs)
    • Benefits
      • Familiar to staff and public alike, and therefore easy to promote use
      • Quick and cheap to set up
      • Allows integration of government message and discussion with other popular forums
    • Drawbacks
      • Often have policies that run counter to government needs:
        • Services may access visitor data in ways that treat privacy

cavalierly.

        • Services may force visitors to take on liability requirements

that governments cannot do.

      • Lack the reliability, and sometimes the security, that the public

has a right to expect of government services.

      • May not have features governments need.
  • Should governments collaborate on producing public-domain or open-source social networks and cloud services tailored to their needs?
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