onsdag 17. februar 2010

Cloud computing: The pros and cons

(Editor’s note: Chris Drake is CEO and founder of FireHost, Inc., a secure Web hosting company. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)
While cloud computing and cloud hosting practices seem like the hot new thing, they’ve actually been around for some time. And while many entrepreneurs are falling over themselves to jump on the cloud trend, the definition and clear-cut use case for cloud hosting remains elusive.
Sure, the promise of cost savings, “fair” usage-based billing and unlimited scalability are appealing, but before you make the jump, a background check is in order.
Many companies (large and small) have come before you, and today’s startups have many resources and case studies to help answer the question: “Is cloud hosting the right solution for my business?”
We’ve pulled together a list of pros and cons to help you decide:
Simplicity – Entrepreneurs have enough on their plates as it is. Solutions that can simplify any part of their business operations are a welcome addition. Hosting in the cloud can streamline and simplify actions such as “pass thru” billing to end-users. In some cases, cloud hosting providers can even bill your customers directly.
Cost Effectiveness – Cloud hosting has a low cost of entry. There are no capital expenses to bear and it doesn’t require “IT-like” personnel to join you staff. Again, for a startup that isn’t depending on their site as a main business conduit this is a very inexpensive way to get going.
Moves as quickly as your business – Cloud hosting is extremely fast to implement in most cases and claims to be infinitely scalable. It also supports multi-platform development environments.
Doesn’t have what you don’t need — If you’re a startup with no critical data on your Web site or applications, the security level of cloud hosting may be plenty.
Performance — In a cloud environment, all sites are competing for the hardware resources. If multiple Web sites spike coincidentally, it can result in everyone slowing down. Additionally, with cloud you never really know how much performance is available to you. The claim is that you get unlimited scalability, however many of the clouds’ early adopters are finding that is not the case as their Web site resource requirements grow and over-exceed this elusive capacity.
Security – Cloud hosting is simply not the most secure environment at present. If you’re looking to achieve and maintain data privacy requirements for PCI compliance, HIPAA compliance, SOX, E-commerce, and so on, then cloud hosting is not the solution for you.
Redundancy – One of the misconceptions of cloud hosting is that it’s hosted “in the sky and not in a datacenter,” which is not true. Cloud hosting resides in a single datacenter. Recently a large hosting provider’s data center went down leaving a lot of cloud hosted Web sites in the dark. The site owners had a huge reality check and quickly learned of the single-points of failure within a cloud environment.
Cost —The cloud gives businesses a hands-free method to scale their hosting, however some problems can arise that are financially surprising. For starters, automatic scaling can make people extremely lazy. If you’re not paying attention to your usage, you just might get a huge surprise on your next bill. One thing that’s a rising concern is hackers running up their victims’ hosting bills. One method that’s being used is a simple low-level DDoS attack (Distributed Denial of Service), which won’t take your site down but will keep your server very busy. Since you pay for usage with cloud hosting, your costs can spin wildly out of control. So if you’re using cloud hosting, make sure to pay daily attention to your usage.
Ultimately, while cloud hosting may provide some distinct benefits and cost advantages for start-ups or non-critical Web sites, it isn’t well suited for mission-critical sites and SaaS applications. In particular, you cannot achieve compliance mandates of HIPAA, PCI, SOX, etc. when storing data in and serving applications from “the cloud.”
So if you’ve been drawn in by the low cost of entry and fast implementation of the cloud, heed the warning that every rose has it’s thorn… even soft, fluffy, cloud hosting ones.

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