Opinion: Cloud computing - offshore or onshore?

Sarah Putt looks at the issues

It is only October, but already Ovum has released its predictions for the top trends for 2011 in both the public sector and enterprise IT. No surprises to see that cloud computing takes the top spot, but what is interesting is that cloud is being positioned by this reputable research firm as an offshoring menace that will steal local jobs.

“The Government needs to wake up to the fact that cloud computing will offshore Australian ICT jobs if we are too slow off the mark in stimulating the growth of competitive cloud facilities downunder,” says research director Steve Hodgkinson.

Ovum predicts that domestic telcos will start to position themselves as enterprise-grade cloud computing services “differentiating on the basis of keeping data within country, their operational scale and their ability to manage end-to-end quality of service”.

Which is fine, in theory. Local service providers offer cloud-type services and promise to keep your company’s data in the country and protect your privacy. As the vendor is local, the IT department can enjoy personal service and can feel proud that they are supporting local innovation.

Only, what about the service itself? Are the global giants that offer cloud based services such Google, Amazon, Salesforce.com better able to provide a service that guarantees no outages, because of their enormous scale? And, just because they are removed from your business, does it really mean they won’t protect your data?

Here is another piece of research to contemplate, this time from IDC. The research company’s Q4 2009 survey stated that 88.6 percent of those surveyed responded that cloud service providers needed to provide SLAs.

As well, the biggest issues identified by IDC after pilots run in March this year were performance and SLA management. Before the pilots, participants thought that security would be the biggest issue.

In other words, service and performance – not security – becomes the bigger concern once the CIO has signed up for a cloud service.

As such, this month was not so good for local cloud providers, specifically the week when Datacom and Maxnet experienced outages that affected their cloud-based offerings. The two articles Computerworld posted online about the outages, (October 18 and 19) prompted a number of comments debating the issue of whether onshore or offshore providers are better.

Maxnet in particular came under fire for blaming its outage on a fault with a Cisco switch. The comments were divided between those who supported a gutsy local provider and those who claimed that only the big guns like Google can offer true cloud services.

Nobody left their name in the comments forum, they could be company representatives pushing their own services, but that shouldn’t detract from the debate, because it is a good one. It raises interesting questions, such as: is the privacy argument for keeping local data in New Zealand just a red herring to boost local vendors and can local providers foot it with the global giants when it comes to the cloud?

If you are a local IT manager and you are investigating going “into the cloud’, maybe you need to first ask yourself if you are there to promote the interests of your company, or the interests of your community.

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