Cloud wars: what you should know when the dust settles

Google versus Microsoft versus IBM versus Amazon... What's best for your enterprise?

It's been well reported that Microsoft is prepping for the upteenth fight-to-the-finish of its career, this time for dominance of the cloud frontier against arch-rival Google.

I consider Google to be the "Microsoft of the Clouds," as the company will soon offer an OS, has a mobile OS, browser, productivity apps, a back-end app engine, email, storage, e-commerce, and social networking tools. Oh, and I almost forgot -- a search engine.

And, sure enough, Microsoft is fighting like mad to get ahead in the search business.

While everyone has their eyes glued to this death match, eWeek's Clint Boulton reminds us there is another rival that is slowly gathering steam in the clouds -- IBM. As Clint put it: "Customers and industry watchers can expect IBM to accelerate its cloud computing efforts into 2010 and beyond, investing at a rate that is commensurate to a $120 billion cloud computing market."

Of course, another contender is Amazon Web Services, which has almost become synonymous with cloud. And don't underestimate Oracle's potential in this space. Sun Microsystems, for one, has been positioning itself for the cloud revolution for more than a decade. HP will likely be another force.

So how is a self-respecting enterprise IT manager supposed to sort through the inevitable flood of marketing that will spew from these battling vendors? Here are some tips from experts who have given this matter a lot of thought:

Determine basic design: "Tight integration of services at the provider level is critical," says Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast. "In the case of e-mail, this means security, archiving, continuity and policy management. The ability to provide a unified service eliminates the need for multiple interfaces, reporting and policy management. They reduce management workload and are 'aware' of each other in a way that allows users visibility and access to their e-mail as well as evidential quality to be maintained."

Select the right platform: "There are many patterns, or categories, in the world of cloud computing that you can leverage," says Dave Linthicum, author of Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide. "Some, such as security-as-a-service, solve specific problems, and others, such as platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service, provide complete platforms... you must consider them in light of your architecture."

Consider costs, but also control: "Partnering with a cloud provider must, at all times, be a low-commitment relationship," says Bauer. "Able to control license fees by paying for access to applications on a per-user basis with a transparent pricing model, IT should at all times maintain complete control of user accounts. They should be able to centrally enforce company-wide policies with real-time implementation without having to rely on the service provider’s help desk."

Consider business continuity: "A cloud provider must be architected to offer constant availability and have rigid service level agreements that back up their assertions," says Bauer. "They must be set in stone, well-documented and protect against all possible risks to downtime. Demand references of existing customers to compare your situation and ask questions if none are made immediately available."

Of course, cloud may not be the best solution at all: "While cloud computing is a great fit for some applications and other architectural components, it typically will not be a fit for all," says Dave Linthicum. "There will always be some data, services, processes, and complete applications that you want to keep within your firewall for a number of reasons, including compliance, privacy, fear, control, and cost."

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