While many people muse over the possibilities for cloud computing, not unlike the trailer for the Cloud Appreciation Society DVD called 'Cloud Spotting' above, enterprise end users try to divine their path forward through the thick information fog of possibilities.
Spoilt for choice this spring in an increasingly crowded market of technology vendors, many of whom are adopting a consumer style service mantra of 'we'll take care of that'. Offerings essentially provide outsourced IT of various flavors, ranging from terra firma based on-site products dressed up as being in the cloud to services on the edge of the stratosphere in terms of security credibility.
Box.net unveiled the next iteration of their offerings last week, while Tibco's Tibbr was launched yesterday, an event already well covered here on ZDNet. I was behind closed doors at another cloud vendor yesterday, SuccessFactors, hearing about their plans, informed by real world security experiences with their customers.
Box continue to impress, with a new interface and collaboration features, while also building their ecosphere of pre-integrated applications from partners, which now number around 150. Box continue to taunt Sharepoint users with their silicon valley freeway billboards. Where they discussed alternative tablets to Apple from Samsung running Android, Microsoft appear to be about to wheel out pc tablets...again...as a response to the iPad and its challengers. From an IT department perspective I've heard frustration at lack of clarity around Microsoft's direction while Line of Business are delighted with getting up and running on projects within minutes on services such as Box.
Meanwhile Salesforce (the leading 'platform in the cloud' some Software as a Service vendors increasingly attempt to emulate) now sport JP Rangaswami the former British Telecom chief scientist among their ranks, and he has published a draft Cloud manifesto of ten guiding principles, making a compelling case for the virtues of 'being able to take it with you' rather than be constrained by outdated proprietary systems.
'Your data is a precious asset. Which means that you really have to think about where you keep it, whom you trust to look after it', says JP.
(This is definitely not the Cloud Appreciation Society in the video above, who are interested in the aesthetics of cumulonimbus, cumulus, nimbostratus, cirrus and stratus).
Salesforce outline principles around Transparency, Use Limitation, Disclosure, Security Management System, Customer Security Features, Data Location, Breach Notification, Audit, Data Portability and Accountability...common insomnia inducing anxieties for anyone working at enterprise scale.
It's encouraging to see this level of mature thinking in a market segment which has been rife with little fluffy clouds of hyperbole which can pollute the market for serious companies in the market segment that tackles hard enterprise problems rather than operational facilitators.
The cloud, like the banking system, like any truly global system, is about openness and standards and transparency and trust and guarantees, say JP in his blog post 'You *can* take it with you: musing about cloud principles'
Unfortunately the banking system isn't the best poster child for these types of principles, having most recently caused the collapse of global housing markets and ushering in a new era of rentier economics, where it is 'better' to rent than to own where you live, unless you have the deep pockets to be the landlord, in which case you own the platform for other's living arrangements and can afford your own suitably appointed palaces.
We are also entering an era of rentier information and knowledge storage and supply. The guiding principles, or more formally the service level agreement, have to be credible in the enterprise world and need to be a solid foundation which isn't going to shift or drift away. We haven't needed a Glass Steagall Act yet in enterprise computing, but consistent, enduring sanctity of your data is every bit as important as the regulation of stewardship of your money. (If you still have any).
There are huge strategic and tactical advantages to putting data and interactions in the cloud, combining enhanced agility with significantly lowered capital costs. What holds many people back is knowing where their data is - to continue Rangaswami's banking analogy your money used to be in your local bank, who then lent it out. Modern banking is an amorphous beast, as the film 'Inside Job' investigates very clearly.
Finding your US sensitive data is being stored in South America or other location by your cloud vendor probably isn't going to enhance your cumulus counting to get you to a peaceful state of restive sleep....
I use Evernote extensively - I'm writing this blog post in that application now - but I have no idea where they keep my data or whether they are about to be bought by a larger player, or start charging for me to download my stuff like Snapfish did so I'm wary what I put there.
Salesforce and JP Rangaswami are doing the right thing by addressing the core concerns of enterprises, who have exponentially more complex data storage and compliance issues at scale than an individual Evernote user.