The Cloud: Why Businesses Are Slow to Adopt

It’s been said that we’re living during the dawn of the zettabyte era.

A zettabyte is equivalent to about 250 billion DVDs, according to Cisco. Put another way: “If the 11-ounce coffee on your desk equals one gigabyte, a zettabyte would have the same volume as the Great Wall of China,” according to a Cisco graphic. In 2011 the world produced less than two zettabytes of digital information. By 2020 we’ll be producing 44 zettabytes. But where do we put all that data?

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The concept of global networking has been around since the early 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider, director at the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, coined the term “Intergalactic Computer Network.” Licklider’s vision, according to Margaret Lewis, product marketing director at Advanced Micro Devices, was for everyone on the globe to be interconnected and accessing programs and data at any site, from anywhere.

“It is a vision that sounds a lot like what we are calling cloud computing,” Lewis told ComputerWeekly.com.

Fifty years later, what has come to be called “the cloud” is now used by millions. Google Drive claims more than 800 million users and Dropbox boasts 520 million and counting.

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Despite the promise of cloud computing, some companies have resisted storing their data on the cloud, choosing to use legacy storage systems from the 1970s and ’80s instead.

"It costs a lot of money to switch to the cloud, and sometimes making that big investment can seem like a lot in the beginning,” said Stan Hanks, chief technologist at Columbia Ventures Corp., a private investment company based in Vancouver, Washington.

There are also regulatory reasons for forgoing the cloud. If a company is required by federal law to maintain physical rather than logistical control of the data, then that company is stuck running their own IT infrastructure.

But data storage experts say companies that can switch but have chosen not to are doing their company a disservice. Resistance, they say, may simply be because company leaders don’t understand how the cloud works.

Legacy System Risks

While 70 percent of companies have at least a portion of their tech infrastructure on the cloud, according to the IDG Enterprise Cloud Computing Survey, the rest are exposing themselves to security risks: The availability of hardware required to keep legacy systems running is diminishing, so these systems have difficulty scaling with growth and are often difficult to replace.

Legacy systems also lack the highly specialized professionals needed to secure and troubleshoot on the back end. An in-house IT team working on a server may only experience a failure every three to four months, and they may not have the ability to respond or recover data as quickly as the experts running large cloud infrastructures and dealing with failures every few minutes.

Companies are also concerned about getting “locked in” and being unable to switch to a different cloud if needed, according to Mary Meeker’s annual internet trends report.

By definition, the cloud isn’t physically locatable, so some company leaders believe they are giving up control of their data, Hanks said. While consulting a multinational company that was going through a $15 million tech refresh, for example, Hanks suggested they move to the cloud, “…but the chief information officer was offended and said, ‘We can’t do that because we have to have control of the data.’”

In reality, the only way cloud-stored data could ever be destroyed is if the internet itself ceased to exist. The cloud fragments and duplicates data across multiple locations so if a failure occurs in one location, there is always a backup.

Cloud-stored data are also split into chunks and stored in different places, a process known as “sharding,” to protect it from hackers. This means if someone were to hack into the cloud and decrypt the data, they would only manage to access random blocks, which ensures a majority of a company’s data would be protected.

Company Migration

General Electric’s adoption of the cloud is an example of how companies can safely and successfully make the switch over a period of time. GE’s IT team began migrating to the cloud from 2010-2012, before a lot of companies had done so, and learned a lot along the way. 

“At the start of the migrations, our focus was on speed and business agility—helping our engineers and developers get from idea to implementation as quickly as possible,” said GE’s Amy Sarosiek. “The migrations also helped GE adopt a guardrails-based security posture and reduce the cost of running our applications, due to the elasticity the cloud provides.”

Even after making the switch, companies need to be aware that there are still risks involved, such as human error. As David Trossell, CEO of Bridgeworks, told the Data Center Journal, “Why do people think that just because it is ‘in the cloud’ they can devolve all responsibility to protect their data and their business continuity to someone else?” The safety of one’s data is up to the person or business, not the cloud vendor they choose.

“The cloud is a facility to run your applications on,” Trossell said. “It’s still up to you to ensure that your data and applications are safe and you have backup plans in place.”

But the “biggest risk” for companies still wary of the cloud, said Hanks, is “being left behind in the digital world.”

Citation for this content: Engineering@Syracuse’s online master in computer science from Syracuse University

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