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Security Isn't the Biggest Obstacle of Cloud Computing

Understanding the impacts of cloud computing on enterprise culture

IBM Session at Cloud Expo

Frankly I've grown weary of the debates over the security of cloud computing. It's not that I don't appreciate that there are technical hurdles in front of us, but we have reached a point that a security vulnerability in a single offering, whether that offering is in the public or private cloud, results in loads of silly commentary that links the particular problem to the overall state of cloud security. I'm not sure if those involved in this commentary have a vested interest in driving this kind of dialogue, or if it happens because it is easy to write about, but in either case a majority of the discussions around cloud security have degraded to pure absurdity.

By and large I've learned to ignore most of this commentary as useless rambling. However, the problem with all this talk is not that it is simply aggravating, but it distracts from what I think is a more serious challenge in the cloud computing space, one that I believe slows adoption more than concerns over security. That's right. While I'm positive many heartily disagree, I don't think security is the biggest challenge to the adoption of cloud computing. In fact, in my opinion the biggest challenge is not even a technical issue.

I can't even begin to remember how many times I've been in meetings where a cloud solution was being pitched and all of a sudden the conversation becomes dominated by audience members. This dialogue isn't usually conversation between the audience and the presenter either. Rather it is a back and forth between company reps in the audience that usually includes questions like the following:

- "What is the networking team going to think about this?"

- "Will the operating system group approve of this approach?"

- "Can our data center administrators work with this new solution?"

Naturally the questions vary depending on the solution being presented, but these types of questions, which in my experience are as frequent as the technical questions, lead me to believe that the operational culture of today's enterprise poses the single biggest challenge toward increasing adoption of cloud computing solutions.

In large part due to the types of technologies built over the last several years, organizations have been "encouraged" to solve problems by building up silos around particular activities. Teams are tasked to complete a piece of the overall solution (i.e. networking, operating system, application, operations, etc.), and each team has their own tools and processes to help them achieve their goals.

While there are arguments to be made both for and against this segmented approach to IT, one thing that cannot be argued is that this approach is at odds with many cloud computing solutions that are more holistic in their approach. As a simple example, think about a typical provisioning process for an application stack:

1)      User submits request for application platform

2)      Infrastructure team assigns physical machines and networking resources

3)      Operating system team installs and configures operating system

4)      Middleware team installs and configures application platform

5)      Applications team installs and configures application

6)      User gains control of the environment

Compare this to the approach taken to provision the same application stack with a PaaS solution whereby the requesting user simply selects their required environment and provisions it into the cloud. This single-step, self-service approach is certainly more streamlined and perhaps sustainable, but it implies quite a bit of a change in the organization.

In this case, the use of the new PaaS solution doesn't mean the organization is throwing out their normal requirements for setting up application environments. However, it does mean that the operational culture they have built up around this process changes. No longer are the teams working in silos with their own tools, but instead they all work within the domain of the PaaS solution and its toolset to enable the one-step, self-service provisioning process exposed to the end user. This change can be quite significant and require working relationships and dependencies that were previously unnecessary in the organization. While that may sound simple enough, changing the way teams interact within an enterprise often entails tons of analysis and discussion, and sometimes proves to be all but impossible.

We must filter the noise from things like cloud security commentary and get out in front of the cultural obstacles that stand in the way of cloud computing adoption. Overcoming these hurdles means the inclusion of certain capabilities in products like change management control, process approval, and the careful division of user permissions and access. It also means that vendors need to be proactive and engage the industry and challenge enterprises to start thinking about what adopting cloud computing within an organization really means. Beyond the technical challenges, emphasis needs to be put on the importance of understanding the impact of cloud computing on operational culture. After all, without this crucial understanding the adoption process will either suffer from a turtle-like pace or altogether fail, and obviously neither outcome is a good one for the cloud industry.<-->

More Stories By Dustin Amrhein

Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.

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