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IDC Survey: Risk In The Cloud

While growing numbers of businesses understand the advantages of embracing cloud computing, they are more concerned about the risks involved, as a survey released at a cloud conference in Silicon Valley shows. Respondents showed greater concern about the risks associated with cloud computing surrounding security, availability and performance than support for the pluses of flexibility, scalability and lower cost, according to a survey conducted by the research firm IDC and presented at the Cloud Leadership Forum IDC hosted earlier this week in Santa Clara, Calif.

"The worries outweigh the benefits right now," said Frank Gens, senior
vice president and chief analyst at IDC. When asked which advantages to cloud they like, 78 percent cited the pay-as-you-go nature of cloud billing, 78 percent said faster deployment of IT resources; 67 percent said they could reduce their IT staff and 54 percent felt it was "the way of the future."
However, respondents gave more weight to their worries about cloud computing: 87 percent cited security concerns, 83.5 percent availability, 83 percent performance and 80 percent cited a lack of interoperability standards. Nonetheless, small-to-medium-sized businesses and enterprises are exporting more of their IT infrastructure to the cloud, Gens added. The IDC survey also showed that companies expect that, on average, 20.2 percent of their IT budgets will be earmarked for cloud computing in 2013, up from 14.4 percent in 2010.

Some of the concerns about cloud computing may not hold up to closer inspection, said Michael Pearl, a partner in the San Jose, Calif., office of the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Companies worry about whether data being turned over to a cloud provider is secure if it's out of their control, but data security breaches happen all the time in companies' own data centers, Pearl observed. "If you think about cloud providers, security needs to be a core competency of theirs but internally oftentimes it's not a core competency and is sometimes under-resourced," he said. "So if you flip that apprehension on its head, there may be benefits in leveraging a cloud offering with the [security] focus and core competence that a cloud provider brings to the table."

Although apprehension remains with those considering a move to the cloud, adoption patterns appear to follow those of virtualization in data centers, noted Simon Aspinall, senior director for worldwide service provider marketing at Cisco Systems. Like virtualization, cloud computing is a process of abstracting the software application from the physical IT resources of a data center, Aspinall said. While virtualization of servers started out slowly with many customers using it for software test and development before using it in their production environment, eventually virtualization became more widespread and used for storage, networking and desktops as well as servers. "[Virtualization] ultimately looks and feels like a cloud service. It's a virtualized piece of software that you can move around to wherever you need it to be," Aspinall said.

What appears to be happening is that companies are dipping their toe into cloud computing, moving one application to the cloud and seeing how it works out, then moving other applications, said Jean Bozman, a Silicon Valley-based IDC analyst. "Cloud computing is something you move into over time," she said. "You have to inventory your apps and determine which ones will be amenable to the cloud and which would not." Apps most easily moved to the cloud include standard business systems like e-mail, customer relationship management and collaboration, Bozman and others at the conference noted. Apps not ideal for cloud computing are customized apps or specific apps related to the particular business that, for competitive reasons, companies would prefer to keep on-premise.