5 Reasons SMBs Aren't Using Cloud Services
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) hopes its Cloud Computing Initiative will lessen these hesitations. The effort includes two standards development projects. The first, dubbed P2301, is essentially a design guide for cloud computing services. The second, P2302, aims to develop a formal interoperability standard for cloud services. (See IEEE Seeks Cloud Standards.)
At this early stage, IEEE can only talk in generalities about what it expects the initiative to accomplish. In addition, the effort doesn't directly focus on the concerns of SMBs looking to increase their use of cloud services. Even so, it will at least indirectly help eliminate many of the reasons SMBs don't use cloud services today. Five such reasons in particular stand out:
Uncertainties about which provider or technical approach to choose
SMBs looking to use cloud services today largely have to accept the provider's assurance that the technology or service it is offering is right for them. There's no independent way to determine whether that's true, because there's no objective source of information about specific technical approaches or applications. The IEEE initiative will use different methods to put different cloud services in perspective, though SMBs will still have to work to make use of the resulting information.
The information will be considerable. The P2301 project, titled "Draft Guide for Cloud Portability and Interoperability Profiles," will create so-called "profiles with options," according to Stephen Diamond, chair of the new initiative. This early in the process, it's hard to know exactly what a profile will entail -- the working group will define each as it proceeds. But in general, a typical profile will likely comprise a set of standards, formats, specifications, APIs, management interfaces, components and other elements that will help service providers or organizations build clouds for specific purposes.
One such purpose, for example, could be a video serving app that delivers streamed entertainment content to different numbers of users at different times, to different types of end points and with differing degrees of interactivity, explains David Bernstein, chair of the working groups for both initiatives and managing director of consulting firm Cloud Strategy Partners. Another example is a cloud with location-based service capability. This could require specifying such things as geographies the location awareness can cover, precision of location identification, latency and ability to interact with various map formats and other geo-coded information, Bernstein says. Such profiles would be useful both for providers hoping to bring such services to market, and to SMBs looking to buy said services.
Assembling the profiles will involve gathering documents and materials ranging from formal specifications to white papers from various sources, such as industry consortia and trade associations, and organizing them "so people who are procuring clouds will have some guidance as to what suites of standards and documents might fit together to make a whole," Diamond explains.
Concerns about getting locked in to a provider
Even if an SMB's cloud service provider offers the right technology, it might be the wrong provider for the company in question. It might, for example, not provide a technological growth path in line with the SMB's needs. Or it might try to take advantage of its position as an entrenched supplier to boost prices. Either way, the general lack of standardization makes it difficult for the SMBs to move from one provider to another, particularly when specialized applications are involved. The profiles that the P2301 project creates will help in two ways. First, they will make it more likely that providers offering similar applications will use the same or similar technological approaches. Second, they will allow SMBs to choose providers that build their services on widely used profiles, and to avoid those that don't. In both cases, switching providers will be easier.
Lack of interoperability
Sooner or later, most SMBs will probably want cloud services from different providers to work together. But even if the services themselves are similar or identical, that still may not be possible. What's lacking is common methods for allowing different clouds to talk to one another. The P2302 project, titled "Draft Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation," aims to solve that problem by developing a formal standard that will make cloud-to-cloud interoperability routine.
This project too is still at such an early stage that it has defined little except general goals. Bernstein compares the task it faces to the creation of the SS7 and Intelligent Network (IN) protocols that the global phone system uses, or routing protocols like the domain name system (DNS) and Autonomous System (AS) numbering that support the terrestrial and wireless Internet.
Of course, it takes a lot more than communication protocols to make the Internet what it is today. Also crucial are security/encryption methods, common file formats, email protocols, browser standards and other such elements. Similarly, true interoperability of cloud services will require the formal or de facto standardization of both applications and communications, as evidenced by the fact that the term interoperability appears in the titles of both documents.
Doubts about geographic reach
Buying cloud services often introduces compliance issues. For example, many laws, regulations and certifications require data and even applications to be physically located in a particular geographic area. If an SMB does business in multiple locations, it can't go to the cloud unless it can meet the relevant requirements wherever it operates. The IEEE initiative will help resolve such problems. To start with, if the SMB's cloud provider doesn't offer service in all the necessary locations, it will be able to use other providers that base their services on the same P2301 profile. And P2302 standards will ensure that the different providers' services can communicate with one another.
Inability to get multiple applications that work together
One big obstacle to SMBs' adoption of cloud services is that the kind of services that they are likely to find most compelling don't yet exist. In particular, while individual cloud computing apps may be useful on their own, their power and usefulness increases dramatically when they are integrated with other apps. And currently such integration is difficult and complicated to accomplish.
For example, today it's possible to buy a cloud-based CRM service from one provider, and a cloud-based call center service from another, and have them work together. This provides such benefits as allowing call center employees to see both the calling history and the transaction records of a customer on the same screen, and to use the combined capabilities of the applications to help the customer effectively.
But for now this kind of integration is typically a one-off effort by one or both of the providers. The combination of common profiles and interoperability standards that the IEEE initiative produces will make such integration routine. That will open up tremendous opportunities for the development of new combinations of services. Or as Bernstein puts it, "This definitely lays the groundwork for the explosion of clouds."
— Robert Poe, Special to Light Reading