Cloud challenges include hype, federation and identity

Cloud computing is still only about halfway up the first upswing of the “hype curve”, says Datacom senior consultant Peter Shephard, and hype could be the biggest enemy of its long-term evolution.
Asking his own question “Is cloud computing a new dawn or a false hope?” Shephard, speaking to a New Zealand Computer Society audience last week, said he inclines towards optimism.

“It’ll only be a false hope if we fall prey to the inflated and unrealistic expectations.” As long as the prospective user has a realistic expectation of what it can do for them and an appropriate perspective on cloud computing for their particular business situation, “then I don’t believe it’s a false hope.”

The classic “hype curve” signals a steep downslope of disillusionment after the initial enthusiasm followed by more realistic evaluation and productive use drives the volume of use up a gentler gradient. Cloud computing, he says, is bound to suffer some of that roller-coaster.

As far as a “new dawn” is concerned, Shephard points out, the concept of computing as a utility, to be used as much or as little as required, like an electricity or water supply, is at least as old as the 1960s, “The computer utility will become the basis of a new and important industry,” said distinguished computer researcher John McCarthy (now at Stanford University) in 1961.

“So it’s a new dawn at the end of a long night,” Shephard says.

A number of factors are coming together to encourage a move into the cloud, he says; the emergence of many software-as-a-service applications is complemented by the attitude of mind generated by service-oriented architecture; to think of computing in terms of the services it provides rather than the technicalities of its provision.

There is certainly “big vendor buy-in” he told the NZCS audience, displaying a screen full of the best-known industry names that have planted their stake in the field.

Shephard sees cloud computing as a “great leveller” allowing startups and other small companies to use services which only big companies have previously had access to. Cloud computing is also potentially of great importance to the New Zealand economy.

As well as smoothing humps in capital expenditure for a single company, there are opportunities for “federated” computing, where different systems exchange data and collaborate in the cloud, he says.

However, verifying identity in the cloud, when this has traditionally been a function associated with particular computers or fixed groups of computers or services is a challenge, Shephard says.

To have a fixed identity on the internet that you could use and verify in multiple places would have great potential. A number of vendors are working on the problem.

BY Stephen Bell Wellington

© Fairfax Media Business Group
Fairfax New Zealand Limited, 2009.



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