Cloudy outlook or clear skies?

Tuesday 13 September 2011, 1:03PM
By TelstraClear

“And it'll be the outlook for Thursday, your guess is good as mine”, sang Dave Dobbyn. He could well have been musing on where cloud computing is heading. There are many views, covering the gamut from hype to hero.

In reality, ‘the cloud’ is nothing new. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Yahoo, YouTube and Gmail are all examples ‘in the cloud’. Closer to home, TelstraClear has been providing customers with cloud-based services for years, including DMZGlobal, Broadsoft and IPGateway.

The cloud is just a model that enables convenient, on-demand access to shared resources. How this is funded is an interesting question, and is where the future of the cloud starts to get cloudy. Most of the services above are ad-based. The ones we provide are focused solutions and paid for like any other service.

But what happens from here? As more companies move towards providing cloud-based services, they’re the ones investing in infrastructure and computing power. End users only need simpler devices that can access the cloud. They pay for access and the services they want. Corporations running the cloud store information and make it available to others based on whatever model works for their business.

Control could, clearly, sit with the corporations. And the question of ownership of information is still being questioned: witness arguments over Facebook’s promotional use of user’s images.

There’s also the question of how the cloud is funded. What happens if you’re living a cloud-based life and the corporation goes bust? Or changes from ad-funded to paid access? Is hit by earthquakes or other disasters? Or simply shuts the service? What about freedom of choice? There are people who stick with old versions of Office – in a cloud environment you use the applications you’re allowed to use.

None of these is insurmountable, and the advantages of getting it right are huge. Like the world we live in, cloud computing can be changing, dynamic, fast-paced and global. We’ll be able to plug in and be truly connected, creating something new and fantastic, just as individual neurons in the brain connect to collectively make each of us more than just a bunch of cells.

The cloud means that small businesses can have affordable access to the same tools that, in many cases, have been out of their reach in the past. The downside of that is that someone else has allowed you access. You don’t own it and what happens to it (changes, updates, costs) are not in your control.

In the cloud, the balance of power may shift. Today you have a choice of what software you want, and when you want to upgrade. In the future, that choice might be made for you (and in some cases that may be no bad thing).

It’s still early days for the cloud… perhaps we should call it the mist for now. Things can and do go wrong. Amazon, Hotmail, Gmail and Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite have all had problems that took days to fix. Paypal, Salesforce and Rackspace have also suffered problems that, although of durations of hours rather than days, had significant impact because of the vast number of people and businesses affected. Big companies have the multi-billion dollar resources required to compete in this space and get it right. Our parent, Australia’s Telstra, is one of those.
The absolute requirement to make the current – and future – cloud work is robust and reliable access.

Telcos are arguably the original cloud providers. Telecommunication networks are essentially centralised shared-tenant architectures for the delivery of capabilities. A good telco has the proven ability to support scale operations, important for cloud service delivery. Telcos to be trusted with the cloud should also have operational support system and business support system (OSS/BSS) infrastructures that tie together network layer and data centre elements.

There is the network itself too, an element often left out on the assumption that end-user access to the cloud is BYO and, therefore, not the cloud service providers' problem. Similar thinking prevails about the back-end connection.

Yes, there are points of failure in the cloud, but you don’t want too many between you and the cloud either. That means you will need to ensure you have a telco that understands the cloud. As businesses start to get their heads around the cloud, as well as into it, the past has a valuable lesson for the future. When it comes to telcos, you get what you pay for.

Cloudy outlook or clear skies? If you make the right choice, the forecast is entirely up to you.

Allan Freeth
Chief Executive, TelstraClear