6 questions you should ask about cloud computing

Yes? No? Maybe?

There are a lot of questions to ask when looking at cloud computing, and whether or not it might be a good solution for your agency.

Accenture recently released a white paper, Six Questions Government Executives Should Ask About Cloud Computing

Fed Cloud Blog today talks with Andrew Greenway, the Global Program Lead for Cloud Computing at Accenture.

AG: We’re increasingly coming to the view in Accenture that cloud is going to have a profound impact across most enterprises, but the way it will impact from one industry to another. We think, for example, it’s going to have a very different impact on a company in the media and entertainment industry, as compared to a company in the retail industry or government.

So, we think it’s going to be more appropriate to think about cloud and the impact it’s going to have on different organizations based on their industry, and that’s why we started producing points of view based around the impact within specific industries.

FCB: The first question you have here is kind of the most obvious, but maybe not really. In doing interviews with different government officials here and different people in the private sector here in the United States, we get the feeling that some people are jumping on the cloud computing bandwagon without really knowing what it is. Talk a bit about question 1 — which is basically, “What is cloud computing and how does it work?” Why is it important to ask that question?

AG: I think many people have a different view of what cloud computing is. Our view is pretty simple — that cloud computing is the provision of computing services over the Internet, from supersized data centers that are starting to grow around the world, and those services range from complex business functions to the simple provision of computing power and storage.

The reason it’s important is that, for the first time, I think we’re seeing the real opportunity for organizations to just buy the computing power that they need — pay by the drink, if you like. There are a number of organizations that are investing literally billions of dollars in building up these mega data centers, so we now really do have almost limitless computer capacity that we can call on, and you can pay for what you need.

That is providing a new opportunity for many organizations to think about how they do their computing and, hence, a lot of opportunities are starting to open up.

FCB: This flows into the second questions that governments should ask, which is about the benefits. Talk a little bit about the major benefits that cloud computing offers.

AG: The major things that we see cloud computing offering are, most importantly in the coming climate, around cost. If you look at any particular organization and the computing capacity that they’ve bought in the past, most organizations are using probably less than 20 percent of that capacity. So, for most of the time, those computers are sitting idle. Cloud computing really allows you to just buy what you need. So, you can see how, very quickly, you can start to get the computing capacity that you need in a much more cost-effective way. It really does provide the opportunity, when implemented in the right way, to provide some very, very effective computing power which wasn’t possible in the past. I think cost is clearly going to be one of the benefits that many organizations are going to look for.

The second one is around flexibility. You really can get what you need and the services that we’re starting to see pop up around cloud computing allow you to take the computing power or the service or the application and just pay for what you use, and when you’re finished, you stop paying. That’s very attractive to many organizations because they don’t have to worry about the big, upfront costs in implementing the software or the data center or whatever it is up front. They just take what they need, pay for it, and then they move on.

The third major benefit that we see is around speed. A lot of the things that you need — the services that you need — are going to be pre-built for you in the cloud. As an organization, you don’t really need to have all the expertise, all the skills that you have in the past. You’re just able to tap in and dial up what service you want, and very quickly you can have that up and running and supporting your operation.

FCB: One of the questions you have in this document, too, regards — “how can I depend on clouds to save money?”

AG: You need to go about it the right way. So, in order to save the money, you have to make sure that you are using the benefits that cloud can bring, buying what you need, and then, when you’re finished using it, you turn it off. So the way that you implement the cloud computing and the way that you sign up to services needs to be structured in a way that you can get that benefit.

We think that’s going to provide some particular challenges to government, which is one of the things that came out in our paper. That is, governments have certain restrictions on them which are very different than those in other organizations. Generally, governments will want to keep their data within the country, and they’ll want to have confidence that the data is not going outside the borders of the country. They’ll have some very specific requirements around security and data privacy, and that places some restrictions on how they can use cloud. We think they’re going to have to be very careful in how they structure the use of cloud to get the benefits without, as I said, having the data lying in the wrong place or without risking data through concerns around data privacy or security.