Hype confuses cloud customers who actually know more about it than they think

Data-center services aren't radically different in the "cloud" than anywhere else

Almost every survey about cloud computing shows customers or potential customers are consistently worried or confused about the same things – all of which boil down to being really excited about what they can get from cloud and nervous because they don't feel as if they have any control over it.

Except they do, at least, as much control as they ever have over anything they don't do themselves.

When you hire someone else to do a job – whether it's fixing your car or processing your data – you lose a certain amount of control over the process.

Sometimes that's a good thing. Giving away control over the intimate operations of my engine may have deprived the public of exciting footage of sudden fires, explosions and the need for large-scale emergency response. It saved me a lot of time I would otherwise have spent getting grease on my hands and spreading flaming gas and engine parts across the highway.

Even when you hire someone else to do work you don't want to do, or don't have the equipment or budget for – much more appropriate to the cloud question than my ability to "fix" a car – you still get to decide how they should do the job.

You often don't get a chance to watch them do it. Not in detail.

Virtualization – the first-step requirement for any cloud service – makes the problem worse because you can't see the virtual servers or applications doing their work, either. At least, not as easily as you can normally see apps running on a physical server.

That makes IT people nervous because they know exactly how many ways a computer can screw up, even when it's working correctly, let alone when it isn't.

Handing your "servers" (VMs, actually, but running your own apps and carrying your precious data) to an external cloud provider is going to make you nervous, especially because cloud contracts tend to be a lot shorter than old-fashioned hosting or outsourcing contracts, and a lot lighter on the what-happens-if kinds of language.

Like:

Q: "What happens if something goes wrong in your data center and my apps aren't available for several days and you never actually recover the data from my virtual machines that froze along with your apps execution layer?"

A: "Don't worry! It's the cloud. It's secure, you'll be fine."

Amazon didn't actually say that about it's EC2 before the big meltdown in April, but only because it doesn't speak to mere customers, not because that's not the message it was sending.

So people worry about cloud management, because they don't know where to start looking for the controls.

And they worry about performance because they don't know what to expect.

And they worry about security, because they know there have to be holes and weaknesses, but they don't know what they are, and don't necessarily even know where to look.

Cloud cognoscentus Bernard Golden points out a couple of fundamental misunderstandings about cloud security, both of which depend on the ignorance of the IT department that owns them to evolve from serious flaws to complete disasters.

And they freak out even more about cloud security when they imagine the whole idea of cloud security will deflate like a pin-pricked balloon after they hear researchers successfully hacked a private cloud, not understanding as well as they think that "cloud" platforms are just data centers wearing a waiter's tux instead of a handyman's coverall.

And they worry "the cloud" is corrupt because hackers used Amazon to crack Sony's PlayStation Network (and other things), because they know, but don't really understand that rentable horsepower is just horsepower for rent and anyone can use it for whatever they want without turning it into a good thing or bad thing on its own.

And they wonder if it's a joke headline from TheOnion when I write a blog with a headline pointing out that clouds are built on data centers, because they either didn't think of cloud that way, or think it's too obvious to be sarcasm.

It was sarcasm, because "the cloud" is a nice coat of paint on a data center and Amazon EC2, no matter how well designed and run, is just as fallible as any other data center or type of technology. It's also just as prone to misuse – so don't get too excited about hackers using it for extra horsepower. They could just as easily have built and used their own clouds – called botnets – except it's now cheaper for many of them to use Amazon than build a botnet.

Cloud computing is new, but it's not mysterious; it's not magical, it's not untouchable or unquestionable.

When you hire a cloud provider, don't forget to ask all the hard questions you normally do just because you're talking to a "cloud provider" rather than a hosting service or co-lo vendor.

It's new, it's convenient, it's cost-effective, it's dynamic and changeable and easy to buy and could be a great thing for your company if you use it right. It's not a miracle and it's not a disaster, either.

It's technology, just like every other thing you build or use every day. Ask the right questions, write the right contract, don't forget you need failsafes and backups in case the cloud crashes just like you would anything else, and you'll (mostly) get the services you need at a (probably) decent price.

Just don't assume you're more confused than you really are, and don't let anyone blow smoke just because they're selling cloud.

You could see through all that if you looked directly at it instead of getting distracted by all the fluff.

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