By Keith Tilley, managing director UK and executive vice president Europe, SunGard Availability Services

Cloud computing has been positioned as something of a new frontier for technology — a game-changing revolution in how IT is delivered to businesses. Gartner, for example, predicts the worldwide cloud services market for Infrastructure as a Service to reach as much as $10 billion in 2014. So, in the eyes of top IT executives, how much of it is hype? And is the cloud meeting the needs of these under-pressure CIOs (Chief Information Officers) ?

With this in mind, we recently conducted research along with Vanson Bourne, questioning 250 UK CIOs on their perspectives around cloud computing. One of the most striking findings was that an overwhelming proportion (86%) of CIOs believe the cloud has been over-hyped. It also found that the biggest challenges cloud computing poses to UK CIOs are exactly the same from those that have always been faced throughout their technology careers. Keeping data secure and resilient, cost-cutting while maintaining or increasing service levels, and the logistics of moving IT to new platforms remain constant concerns — cloud or not. Reinforcing this view is that three quarters of CIOs (74%) agree that the move to the cloud is no different from past major IT transitions in which they have been involved.

From harking back to IT developments of the previous decade, to illustrating the lack of impact cloud computing has had on any key business challenges, today’s CIO is evidently sceptical of the potential game-changing credentials of cloud technologies, which begs the obvious question: if cloud computing cannot address the most important issues of those who are ultimately responsible for information within organisations, can it really impact upon the business landscape in the way that is being predicted?

Some explanation of these views can be found in further feedback from the CIOs we spoke with, who are clearly demanding that cloud providers demonstrate greater clarity and visibility into the capabilities of their solutions. Too often vendors build clouds which promise — quite legitimately — reduced cost and greater flexibility, but treat availability and security, CIOs’ greatest cloud concerns, almost as an afterthought. All the marketing collateral is centred around the advantages of putting data into the cloud, but businesses absolutely have to know if they are able to get it back, or indeed if the ability to transfer their data from a cloud vendor back in-house, or to another vendor in the future exists. Indeed, 71% of CIOs want greater insight into the means of data protection within cloud offerings, for example, 66% want more information on data security credentials and 45% want more detail on pricing models. A more thorough education is needed from those providing cloud technology so that CIOs and enterprises are clear about the potential benefits it can offer.

While businesses are open to exploiting the cloud’s potential, they’re not willing to give up on control over costing or the security and resilience of their data. Data in particular is an understandably great concern for CIOs, who are under increasing pressure to ensure information is always available to the organisation, as data continues to grow at an alarming rate. And the reality is that, for most organisations, moving their IT infrastructure into the hands of a third party carries real risk. While much has been touted about the cloud and its benefits, it’s crucial to bring ourselves back to the bare truth that relinquishing control of the infrastructure on which their vital applications are run is a major decision for CIOs. This means that security, resilience and costing cannot be an afterthought — they need to be strictly defined and communicated from the start and ingrained into the very fabric of the solution. And with respondents citing “a solid history and record of resilience and protecting customers’ data” as the most important attribute for a third party cloud provider to demonstrate, these qualities must form part of the supplier’s DNA.

Ultimately, the research clearly shows that, while the IT landscape may have changed over recent years, the most pressing concerns of CIOs have not. While the technology platforms or indeed the way such platforms are deployed and implemented have evolved, the decision-making around investment in the cloud is founded upon the same considerations that companies have always had when sourcing their IT. The questions CIOs ask of cloud vendors are exactly the same as they always have been:

•Do they have the heritage and credentials to deliver what’s required?
•Do they have proven success with other deployments?
•How strong are their service and support platforms?
•Will current and future projects deliver Return on Investment?
•What will the Total Cost of Ownership be?
•Do they — and does their technology — have the ability to scale with my business?

These issues will continue to remain on the CIO agenda, and suppliers need to adapt and address this. However, some responsibility also has to fall on the prospective customers themselves, who have to ask the tough questions of cloud providers to get exactly the information they want. Without this to hand, it’s hardly surprising that the full capabilities of the technology are not being understood and that it’s still seen as overhyped. Through a better communication and understanding of cloud computing, and if organisations are savvy about the choices they make, there’s no reason that this hype can’t be replaced with potential and the predicted impact upon the business landscape can’t be realised.

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