The six myths of cloud

The six myths of cloud

Summary: The debate about Surface Pro storage goes to show we're not always all-in on cloud. There's a good reason for that: getting the most from the cloud means taking off the blinkers.

The cloud
What are the six myths of the cloud?

The cloud is not always the one-size-fits-all solution as it is sometimes portrayed. Here are six of the biggest fallacies around cloud computing:

1. It's always cheaper

There's no magic about cloud: it offers efficiencies of scale and efficiencies of management that most businesses don't have because of their size or because, in the words of the old joke, "I wouldn't start from here". But if you have a consistent load, you can get some of the savings of cloud by standardising and automating your internal systems — that's what Microsoft keeps calling 'private cloud', but we've also heard terms like 'dynamic IT', 'ITIL' and just 'running your servers properly instead of hand-rolling everything'.

How 'spiky' is demand? If you drive every day, buying a car is cheaper than leasing or taking taxis. If you sometimes drive 100 people and you sometimes drive two, it makes sense to hire a coach when you need it rather than to keep one in the garage all the time. But if you need to get those two people from A to B every day, buy a car (by which I mean, a server — in real life, I'd suggest investigating trains rather than adding to the traffic jams, assuming you live somewhere with a transport system).

Where cloud is both cheaper and game changing is when you need access to massive amounts of computing for a short time, or when you're getting started and you don't want to wait for your own hardware. Spin up 50 servers right now and get your business started. Spin up thousands of servers for an hour to crunch through some data and never do it again, because now you know what you were looking for. That's where cloud is indisputably the right choice. Just remember to budget for the time and bandwidth cost of getting your data to where the processing power is. 

2. There's no shelfware

On-demand, pay as you go... sometimes. But sometimes you buy seats to a SaaS product and you buy monthly but pay yearly, in advance. Check that the cloud service you're looking at really does stop charging when a couple of people on the team stop using it (instead of expecting you to transfer those accounts to someone else and keep paying for them like, say, a licence).

3. You always know how much it's going to cost

That's kind of true for services with all-in monthly charges like Salesforce (although remember that monthly charges are paid a year at a time, in advance), but if you're using a cloud platform like EC2 or Azure, expect some complex calculations. One brokerage using Azure for risk analysis puts up a big notice in its app reminding users that the computation they are about to run comes out of their department budget.

4. It's always safer and better run

It's not fair to beat the entire cloud industry with the Ma.gnolia stick — the 'cloud' bookmark service that turned out to be two Macs, one external hard drive and a SQL database that was backed up without ever being closed. But you do have to do some investigation into what that cloud is floating in.

Yes, a reputable cloud service can probably manage security better than you can — and if it's not better at automation and maintenance than the average business, then it's going to go out of business. But all those customers make cloud services a really attractive proposition for hackers, so make sure the cloud service where you're storing your documents has dealt with security issues — like the one that allowed you to log into any Dropbox account with any password in June 2011...

5. It's always on

The most likely single point of failure for cloud services is your internet connection when you're trying to access them. But every major cloud provider including Amazon has had outages. In 2013 alone, Office365, Google, Twitter and Facebook have had noticeable outages. 

6. You can get back out without any costs

Well, you can get your data out of Salesforce — but good luck getting the business model that was embedded in all those apps. This is where Azure and OpenStack are so interesting. Any hosting provider lets you scale your VMs onto more powerful systems that you don't have to keep running yourself. But if you write a cloud service that runs on Azure, you can run it in-house on one of the fast-track 'Azure-in-a-box' systems from OEMs like Dell and HP. It's more work, but it's also far more powerful than tying yourself to a cloud platform that might take off in a direction you don't want to go.

Topic: Cloud

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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  • Cloud Feedback

    Good article. Since working on a new cloud product 'CloudToo,' It's true to say there is quite alot of confusion with the cloud. People have security concerns and sometimes cloud isnt best for all businesses. Best thing is to research and speak tp an IT/cloud specialist.
  • Making these paper tigers up as you go along?

    Microsoft is suspicious of the cloud, because the potential advantages - especially money saving - will make many people wonder why they are paying so much for Microsoft software with so little advantage.

    Microsoft's business model (like Apple's) is bound up in proprietary software, while the openess of the cloud will inevitably encourage people to try just as fully feature, but free or cheap software.

    I've never heard ANY of the myths as written here; it seems designed to put people off the cloud. I hear Microsoft whispering in the ear of gullible journalists.

    Rewrite those 'myths' just a little, and see the truth:

    1. It's USUALLY cheaper - yes it is. But like everything else, you need to shop around and know what you're buying.

    2. There's LESS shelfware. There's less opportunity (so far) to scam people, but there's scammers everywhere, so stay alert.

    3. You CAN always know how much it's going to cost; but beware of the small print. As with everything else.

    4. It's USUALLY safer and better run.

    5. It's ALMOST always on (only a fool would believe it was always on)

    6. You can change supplier with minimal costs (only a fool would believe there would be no costs to restructuring a service; but changing contractors need not be terribly disruptive, if handled intelligently. But the pitafalls - obviously - exist in ANY change.

    Your "myths" simply don't exist. If you want to warn of the downside of the cloud, be my guest. People need to know. But why dress it up as a Janet & John Horror Story?

    There may be the occasional total idiot who believes one or other of the bits of twaddle you quote, but I have yet to meet anyone quite that stupid, and I suspect you've not met one either.
    • did you even read the article?

      All of the points you made are included wow and so rude about it as well
      Sean Westcott
    • Do you ever deal with management?

      @Heenan73: There are plenty of people who buy into the sales hype represented by the author's myths. You must live in a relative bubble. And I agree with another commenter that your reply was rude. Start your own blog if you think you have a corner on the truth.
      • Bad journalism deserves rudeness.

        The whole thing is bunch of total rubbish - have you ever heard of these 'myths' before today?

        Of course not. It's sloppy writing - lazy journalism - and anyone with an ounce of integrity (not to mention common sense) should challenge it.

        I never claim to have a 'corner on the truth' (whatever that is), but I am as entitled to criticise as you are to fawn. That - in case no-one told you - is what this forum is for.

        And worse, you are too thick to realise that it's just Microsoft scare tactics because they aren't ready to win the cloud; they don't want to lose customers before they figure out how to reatin their income. And you - like the author - fell for it hook line and sinker.

        The cloud offers amazing opportunities, and of course there are risks. But childish horror stories is not the way forward. Except for those with childish minds.
        • ....

          I hear these myths all the time. Things of concern like saftey, downtime,costs, these are thing you always ask. oh and Microsoft is promoting cloud usage not trying to get people away from it. Kind of sounds like you do live in a bubble of crap you make up and then spit out.
          • You guys must have pretty stupid sales teams visiting

            No one I know would give space or a minute, let alone a contract, to a salesperson who touted such childish rumours.

            If you guys hear them, you must have a reputation for being gullible.

            Ask the author ... I bet you $1 she got 'given' this story by Microsoft.
          • ask me yourself

            FYI nobody pitched me this story; I've been following cloud for a long time and these are the things that set my teeth on edge. they're myths from any vendor, Microsoft or Salesforce or Oracle or whomever. Congratulations on having such an enlightened team in your business.

            Please donate the $1 bet to charity.
          • I'll take your word for it ...

            ... Done.

            Dr Barnardo thanks you :)
      • Sorry...

        But it is you that is the rude fool.
    • There are plenty of those idiots, unfortunately . . .

      "There may be the occasional total idiot who believes one or other of the bits of twaddle you quote, but I have yet to meet anyone quite that stupid,"

      Obviously haven't paid attention to articles on ZDNet about the cloud. It's full of those "idiots." They worship the cloud only in its "purest" form (ie, your device is as dumb as a brick and becomes a brick the instant you lose your connection), and hate ideas like caching, private clouds, etc. They will hammer into you constantly the idea that you're always connected, even if that's an outright lie. They will deny any disadvantages to no end, or at least claim that you can't possibly come up with a scenario where the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. And even when you do, they will conveniently ignore you and keep preaching their claims anyways.

      Basically, if your "cloud" service is not "pure enough" in the way they want it to be, then you can't call yourself a "cloud," and they will list 10 (easily refutable) reasons why their way is better.

      Personally, I use things like Dropbox, which sync via the cloud but don't require me to be online to use them. The best of both worlds: If I'm online, I always have the latest. If I'm offline, I still have access. To me, such a hybrid solution embraces "access your data anywhere, anytime" more than any purely cloud solution out there.

      But don't try telling the religious zealots of the pure cloud anything like that. It's pure blasphemy.
      • Agreed

        Much better to assemble your own system, utilising services like drop box. Shop around and buy in components as you need them. The cloud IS the future, but anyone who believes it is 'perfect' deserves the shafting they'll undoubtedly receive.

        Of course, the last thing that 'corporate solutions' sales people want is you shopping around; they'll always want to sell you software that is top price, when you may never need it. For example, how many companies *really* need Office on every terminal, when four out of five would rarely use half the features of Google Docs (exactly why Microsoft likes 'corporate solutions')

        If this article and thread has taught me anything, it's taught that there's a lot more gullible people about than even I imagined.

        Purchase 101 - If it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. And if you deal with snake oil salesmen, you get snake oil.
  • A nie and fair look at both sides of the cloud, in general, however

    on the security side, yes the cloud providor may be able to provide better security against and outside electronic attack at the server, but you the user have absolutely no information or knowledge on who is working at the facility and if they represent a risk to you. Also all that data flowing back and forth over the Internet is open to being intercepted is someone really wants to do so. It's very hard, but it can be done, especially close to the user end.

    The cloud promotors only ever get the costs close to right in the USA, unlike the USA most of the rest of the world still pays for every damn MB of data shifted in and out on the Internet, thus any cloud based service incures HUGE Internet usage fees in most parts of the world.
    Deadly Ernest
    • I do wish we had a edit capable here nie=nice in the above

      sorry for the typo also is near the end of the first para should be if and incures = incurs - - for some reason the browser built in spell checking doesn't work on ZDnet for me.
      Deadly Ernest
  • The real cost

    A fair coverage of the problems with the cloud, but you missed fully stating the increased costs. First, there is the dramatic increase of bandwidth. Bandwidth costs, no? Then there is the major increase in software costs. No longer will you be able to purchase a software package and use it for as long as you have the machines to run it and a need for it. Now you’ll be paying a monthly fee for software, including upgrades and “improvements,” whether or not you want them or use them. And you’ll be paying forever. How many people are still using Office 2007? Windows XP? The vendors want you to lease the software, not purchase it. Increased cost in the long run.

    And don’t underestimate the reliability problem. “But every major cloud provider including Amazon has had outages. In 2013 alone, Office365, Google, Twitter and Facebook have had noticeable outages.“

    And just wait until your data gets stolen or destroyed while it's sitting on a third party computer.

    • The elephant no one talks about...

      Look around your office and all the people that work with you. Now consider the fact many of them are not privey to a good deal of "sensitive" information because A. They don't need to know and B. Because it's sensitive.

      Now, how many people you have no clue about work at these huge cloud providers? Do you really believe they are ALL above taking a bribe or won't leak your information just because they think it would be "cool"? (Or are just plain dumb about security.)

      Another issue, with the laws in the US ANY quasi - police force / federal agency, etc. can self type a letter and walk in and take any and all information they want. Now, no one has ever done something like that to win say a defence contract. Oh wait, it happens all the time. Uh oh...
      • Fair point - but just as true, non-cloud.

        ... and local guys can find the files much more easily. The cloud data stores are the equivalent of a warehouse the size of a city with a staff of two; them finding the required data to leak / sell it would take them years. By which time someone might have noticed they're neglecting the day job.

        Then there's encryption. I'm not saying the cloud is perfectly secure; nothing is. But the real risks are much closer to home.
  • Only as good as your internet connection

    "cloud" computing is, and always will be, only as good as your internet connection. Okay, inside the business office that will always be good.

    But for anybody that wants to be mobile, that can be a problem. Not everybody wants a data plan, coverage can be spotty in certain areas, cities may be struggling to keep up with demand and there may be dead spots (often elevators). This whole idea of "accessing your data, anywhere, anytime" is frankly a pipe dream if whatever you're using requires a constant connection. A good amount of caching and offline access will be needed if you really want access to your data anywhere, anytime.

    "It's not fair to beat the entire cloud industry with the Ma.gnolia stick"

    Why not? The truth is, there's very little way of knowing what's running any startup "cloud" service. Things like Amazon and Microsoft we can be pretty confident are being run the way they claim, but outside of the big guys, how can you really tell?

    Ant the fact that it "turned out to be two Macs, one external hard drive and a SQL database" kinda makes me wonder if huge data centers are really needed.
    • It's an issue, but not a big one.

      Remember the days you had to use outlook for email? All stuck on one machine? Remember how liberating it was to use gmail (or countless other) web based email? The advantages of instant access from anywhere far outweigh the small risks of downtime - let's face it, the desktop iand server are at risk if there's a power outage.

      Sure, for business with no mobile staff, no off site work, all in one place, the cloud would probably best used as a security backup in case of fire or flood. But for larger, more mobile enterprises, the freedom the cloud offers is compelling ... if the price is right ;)
  • The Seventh Myth...

    ...that there are only six myths.