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Why some IT executives are gung ho about cloud computing technology

If the turnout at the recent Society for Information Management (SIM) meeting in Boston is any indication, IT executives are seriously interested in cloud computing technology. And although questions from the floor tended to be practical — as in, “How do I integrate cloud data with my back-end applications?” — panelists provided a more philosophical view.

To those who still fret over issues of security, liability and performance, the SIM panelists pointed out Inc.’s success as an indicator of cloud longevity. Is it a fad? Not when the cloud service is more compelling for many reasons than providing your own service — capital expenditures (capex) to operating expenditures (opex), agility and yes, better storage and security.

“It’s hubris for our company to say, ‘Well, we do security better than Amazon or AT&T,'” said Rob Ramrath, CIO of Bose Corp., a maker of audio systems and advanced test equipment in Framingham, Mass. ” There’s been a lot of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt], but the cloud is better, more capable, more usable and secure than people give it credit for. [Amazon’s] business would die if they couldn’t maintain security.”

“Just looking at what a company like Amazon has done is fantastic,” said Michael Draper, global director for Platform-as-a-Service operations at Pegasystems Inc., a Cambridge, Mass.-based provider of cloud services. “[Amazon] is a $28 billion e-commerce company with data centers around the globe. With simple storage services, they placed storage across three distinct data centers. How can you compete with that internally?”

Most of Draper’s work in cloud computing technology is evangelizing, bringing people on board with the promise that instead of waiting three or four months, a project can be operational in three or four hours. “Instant provisioning is one of the nice things,” he said. However — and this is key: Don’t make it too easy by putting up a portal and promising to deliver a service in 20 minutes that hits the buyer’s P&L. “You’ve heard of VM sprawl?” he asked, with a grin. “Get ready for the cloud sprawl.”

In framing the session, Robert Klotz, vice president of technology at IT services company Akibia Inc. in Westborough, Mass., identified four characteristics of a cloud-based service offering. Access anywhere, anytime; serving data in rapid fashion to constituents; a secure nature that enables multitenancy; and provisioning and deprovisioning. “Deprovisioning is key,” he said.

Panelists encouraged attendees to look at cloud computing technology from a business-case perspective, along with service capability and cost. “It’s one more tool in the toolkit,” said George Brenckle, senior vice president and CIO of UMass Memorial Healthcare in Worcester, Mass. “Ask, ‘What are we trying to accomplish?’ and ‘What model is the best?’ It doesn’t have to be a big-bang transition.”

However, it does require investment up front, because the transition phase requires both opex and capex for a time. For that reason, panelists are looking to make strategic investments, they said. At Aquent LLC, a global marketing and design staffing firm based in Boston, CIO Larry Bolick moved the phone system in North America to the cloud, and put a custom-built ERP system on “We built the foundation for integration in the cloud that will be happening in the next few years,” he said.

Have no fear (or uncertainty or doubt), the data will be integrated; the cloud is here to stay, the executives proclaimed.

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