There is a wary sense of deja vu among CIOs when the talk turns to cloud. Having bought a boatload of half-baked products over the years, experienced technology leaders are not easily impressed by the Next Big Thing.
With outsized hype but only modest deliveries so far, cloud computing promises to move applications and systems around to whatever locations and platforms make the most business sense. Already it's widely accepted as a fundamental, long-term shift in how IT will be delivered in the future.
Yet as our cover story ( "Clash of the Clouds,") explains, there are big hurdles to clear before we stroll through the heavenly cloud gates. Those include a lack of standards, vendor lock-in and uncertainty around network uptime, security and data access. The biggest worries of all are centered on what one CIO friend calls "The dreaded 'I' word: Integration."
Nowhere is the picture murkier than around integration of cloud services. It's safe to say no large company will outsource everything to the cloud, and even midsize firms aren't likely to end up with 100 percent cloud-provided IT for quite a while. So hybrid models of on-premise and off-premise corporate systems will need to flourish.
As CIO Ken Harris of Shaklee points out in our story, integration capabilities are the key to any cloud vendor's future prosperity. "They don't have an effective business model if they can't rapidly and conveniently connect with customers' on-premise systems," he says.
Shaklee already runs several software-as-a-service applications and has invested in third-party tools to integrate those systems. "I'd have to integrate them even if they were internal," Harris notes, but the difference with cloud-based technologies is that off-site systems add in a network reliability element beyond the CIO's control.
The inner workings of cloud providers can pose another sort of problem when they cloak themselves in mystery, adds CTO Marty Colburn of Finra (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority). In looking to move his e-mail systems to a cloud vendor, he was frustrated by one vendor's refusal to reveal details about its own architecture. Still another tricky aspect of cloud is its potential to fuel a new kind of "shadow IT," where users armed with corporate credit cards can easily set up systems without you knowing.
For a thorough exploration of all these cloud hurdles-and a look at how your colleagues are clearing them-check out our story. And let us hear from you about the impact of cloud on your business.
Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.