Old hat in new clothes

Posted on 24 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

Technology forum shows that cloud computing challenges are all just a little bit of history repeating. Jane Gray recounts the discussion.

Last night (Monday, May 23) technology giant IBM hosted a select dinner to celebrate the launch of its new Institute for Advanced Security Europe. Discussion over an excellent bill of fare, was led by Nick Coleman, IBM’s global cloud security leader but industry experts and commentators from the technology press pitched in to provoke lively debate over the supposed benefits and challenges for cloud computing in the UK.

IBM’s new institute is designed to connect public and private sector organisations either using cloud application or considering the transition. IBM will be offering advice and access to research through the institute which will give insight into areas such as security analytics, cryptography and privacy. Forums discussion groups and demonstrations will be held by the institute at IBM’s technology labs across Europe, including the IBM Hursley lab in the UK.

Inevitably, considering the nature of the new institute, all the talk was focused on the security issues around cloud computing and Coleman admitted that recent surveys by IBM still showed that this was the primary blocker for technology adoption with over 70% of company’s stating doubts over the ability of cloud applications to provide the appropriate level of security for their industry’s compliance and liability concerns.

As debate progressed however Coleman pointed out that discussion of issues such as identity, governance, IP protection and access were all “old problems in a new environment,” and that in reality there were very few security concerns unique to the cloud computing paradigm.

Attendees at the IBM dinner, including experts in data analytics, business continuity and technology auditing largely acknowledged this but questioned the urgency with which cloud computing solutions are being thrown at companies across sectors, and the extent to which IT vendors were driving the uptake as opposed to responding to customer needs.

There was also a consensus around the table that the range of offerings around cloud computing is largely misunderstood by its client base. Cloud solutions can be either publicly or privately hosted, or can be a hybrid mixture of the two with additional, old style, on premise solutions to boot. The idea that companies can move to the cloud in a progressive and calculated way – without the need for “rip out and replace” approaches is not widely appreciated, particularly by the small and medium sized organisations being targeted for uptake.

Certainly in my own experience of manufacturing firms, SMEs have little in-house know-how when it comes to IT. Sometimes investments will have been made in necessary design or production software to gain early competitive advantage, but in-house expertise are honed to deal with engineering challenges, not IT infrastructure.

As an addendum to this point about the targeting of smaller companies as adopters of cloud computing – largely on the principle that they are most in need of the cost benefits and scalability that a cloud platform can bring – technology writer Adrian Bridgwater, who has extensive experience writing for publications such as Computer Weekly and the Wall Street Journal, commented, with more than a touch of cynicism, that: “you must remember the vendors want to target the midmarket because they have already caught the low hanging fruit of big IT budgets in large organisations,” with the sale of on-premise and mainframe solutions.

Whether this is true or not, vendors must be eyeing the UK market with its abundance of SME business as a veritable scrumping ground for cloud sales. The major challenge to the exploitation of this, it seems to me is simply what, IBM’s Sam Greenlees identified as a certain reluctance of UK companies to pitch in with technology investment. Comparing the UK to the USA for midmarket interest in cloud computing, as a money saving device and a means for flexible growth and innovation in offerings for customers Greenlees, who is IBM’s business continuity and resilience expert, said the disparity was striking.

Of course Greenlees will be acutely aware that some of the caution of the UK market in leaping towards this new technology infrastructure, or range of infrastructures, is due to an inherent cautiousness (amplified since the recession). Companies are understandably risk averse in the current economic climate, and given the disruption caused to supply chains and markets by event like the Japanese Tsunami and in the realms of technology, hacking scandals like that to strike Iphone’s apps earlier this year.

Such events are hardly encouraging nut, coming full circle to return to Coleman’s observations, Greenlees pointed out that the questions about risk and business continuity that need asking when deploying a cloud infrastructure still come down to the same issues business has been dealing with for years. How to back up information? Making sure that you trust those who are protecting your assets and having a plan to keep operational should those assets be lost.

IBM has published a white paper titled Cloud Computing: Who do you trust? which details the questions companies considering the cloud should be asking themselves. For further detail on this, and to get in touch with IBMs manufacturing specialists on the application of cloud technology contact Nick Coleman: [email protected] .