Stormy Weather: 7 Gotchas in Cloud Computing

Global Concerns

Cloud vendors today have a U.S.-centric view of providing services, and they need to adjust to the response-time needs of users around the world, says Reuven Cohen , founder and chief technologist at Enomaly Inc., a cloud infrastructure provider. This means ensuring that the application performs as well for users in, say, London as it does for those in Cincinnati.

Bonvanie agrees. Some cloud vendors "forget that we're more distributed than they are," he says.

For instance, San Bruno, Calif.-based MarketBright's cloud-based marketing application works great for Serena's marketing department in Redwood City, Calif., but performance diminished when personnel in Australia and India began using it. "People should investigate whether the vendor has optimized the application to work well around the world," Bonvanie says. "Don't just do an evaluation a few miles from where the hardware sits."

Worldwide optimization can be accomplished either by situating servers globally or by relying on a Web application acceleration service, also called a content delivery network, such as that of Akamai Technologies Inc. These systems work across the Internet to improve performance, scalability and cost efficiency for users.

Of course, situating servers globally can raise thorny geopolitical issues, Willis points out. Although it would be great to be able to load-balance application servers on demand in the Pacific Rim, Russia, China or Australia, the industry "isn't even close to that yet," he says. "We haven't even started that whole geopolitical discussion."

In fact, Cohen points out, some users outside of the U.S. are wary of hosting data on servers in this country. They cite the USA Patriot Act, which increases the ability of law enforcement agencies to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical and financial records and eases restrictions on foreign-intelligence-gathering within the U.S. The Canadian government, for instance, prohibits the export of certain personal data to the U.S.

"It's hazy and not well defined," Cohen says of the act. "People wonder, 'Can they just go in and take [the data] at a moment's notice, with no notification beforehand?' That's a whole second set of problems to be addressed."

Non-native Applications

Some applications offered on SaaS platforms were originally designed for SaaS; others were rebuilt to work that way. For example, Bonvanie says, there's a very big difference between applications like WebEx and Salesforce.com, which were designed as SaaS offerings, and Aria's billing platform, which was not.

"It's highly complex and fits in the cloud, but its origins are not cloud-based," he says. "If the offering was not born [in] but moved to the cloud, you deal with a different set of restrictions as far as how you can change it."

Whatever "cloud computing" is to you -- an annoying buzzphrase or a vehicle that might power your company into the future -- it's essential to get to know what it really means, how it fits into your computing architecture and what storms you may encounter en route to the cloud.

Computerworld contributing writer in Newton, Mass. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net .

This version of the story originally appeared in Computerworld s print edition.

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