While evidence of wide-scale adoption of cloud computing is yet to be uncovered in Australia, scratching below the surface of many established businesses reveals a plethora of individual projects and test deployments, as they strive to see how the model might work for them.Often a company's first foray will be for a specific project, isolated from the rest of its operations, but carried out with a degree of urgency.
Such was the case for Service Stream, a publicly listed industrial services organisation employing 4400 people across 51 offices around Australia.
According to chief technology officer Alistair Legge, the company prides itself on its technical capability, providing innovative solutions, including a Web-enabled mobile phone billing system and the Federal Government's DoNotCall register.
In December 2008 the company won a large contract that involved visiting a million residences and collecting data on mobile devices, including photographs, and transmitting and reporting that data to its client.
"We only had a few weeks to get the solution up and running and were in the middle of a number of other large projects and infrastructure upgrades at the time, including a SAN migration at our data centre," Legge says.
"Our development partner, Base2 Services, suggested that the application could be hosted in the cloud and we jumped at the idea, using Amazon's cloud offering as a platform to host the application and store the data."
Legge says the cloud model was a great solution due to uncertainty regarding the scope of the data collection and the duration of the service. His company did not have to commit its own infrastructure, and as a standalone project, it did not require integration with any of Service Stream's other systems.
"We had a good experience with this one and are now looking at how we can apply that to other things," Legge says. "We are getting close to data centre capacity, so we are looking for alternatives to expanding our data centre, and we see this as one option. We'll be looking at taking some components out of the data centre and putting them into the cloud to get over that short- to medium-term requirement to spend money on a new data centre."
There are still plenty of issues to be overcome first. For starters, he says the relatively rudimentary nature of service level agreements (SLAs) from cloud providers makes it difficult for Service Stream to provide SLAs to its own clients.
Secondly, he believes situations requiring integration with Service Stream's own infrastructure could get very complicated very quickly.
Finally, the cloud service providers themselves need to establish stronger reputations with the enterprise IT community.
"We're using Amazon, and people wouldn't look at Amazon as a business service provider," Legge says. "It's not a new technology, but it's a new business process, and people need to trust that.
"The biggest problem is a lack of visibility of how they provide the services. People like to feel and touch things, and they can't with cloud computing. So it is going to take a while for people to build that confidence, but then it will be pretty standard."