Cloud based computing is the latest in a long series of allegedly paradigm-shifting innovations in the computing industry. In common with most of its predecessors it is neither as good nor as bad as it looks.

The increasing availability of high-speed, reliable internet services makes cloud computing services a viable option in a number of situations, but adding 'cloud-based' to a product description doesn't magically solve all your problems.

What about the cat?

In 1989 Roger King [1] claimed that to sell a cat to someone in the computer industry he would ignore the usual feline virtues of companionship, mouse eradication etc and claim that the cat was object oriented. Today he might suggest the cat was cloud based.

The common point here is that buzzwords are not a substitute for analysis.

Don't implement a cloud-based solution because you believe in cloud computing or a salesdroid tells you it’s the way of the future. Equally don't avoid cloud-based solutions because you read something bad about it on the internet (wait a minute, that's me...)

In a fit of cynicism I'll mention that adding the words “cloud” or “as a service” to the name of a product doesn't actually make it cloud-based.

Public or Private

This article is about public cloud-based solutions, where the computing infrastructure is external to the client network (ie elsewhere on the internet). Some organisations use cloud computing methods to deploy services within their own networks - these private clouds have different advantages and challenges which I wont cover.

Types of Cloud Computing

There are lots of good resources which describe different types of services that might be delivered in the cloud [2] but as a brief summary:

Type of service



 A virtual (or actual) machine where the hardware is hosted externally but the software is managed by the client


 Adds database and application development environments


 A specific package offered as a turnkey solution to end user clients


 Adds virtual private network facilities for multi-site organisations

Cloud storage, where a cloud host provides a virtual file store (disk drive) falls somewhere between these categories, reinforcing the difference between nice neat taxonomies and messy reality.

Things to consider before leaping into the cloud

This is not a complete list, but some initial

  • Does it work for all your needs?
    A solution that works really well for your travelling sales force or service delivery staff might work less well for your administration and finance staff. This doesn't mean you should avoid it, but think about the whole process/data life-cycle and consider the losers as well as the winners.
  • Where is my data?
    Security is (or should be) a major concern for any outsourced data storage option [3].
    Particular industries and jurisdictions may have legislative constraints on where they can store data but in any case you need to be comfortable that you data is secure and recoverable in the event of a systems failure.
  • Where is the execution environment? For software solutions, where is the application executed (on the server, on the access device or some combination).
    This matters because you may be restricted from using certain types of device (eg iPad but not Android tablets), or tied to one web browser (if you don't ask you might get a nasty surprise later).

These questions really apply to any computing solution, but it’s all too easy to forget the basics once you see the shiny new technology (or is that just me...)

You probably already are in "the could"

There many existing cloud-based services that provide reliable, cheap (even free) services to many, many people, so the basic concept clearly works.

Some cloud based services you may already use:

  • Gmail and other web-based email systems
  • iTunes
  • File storage systems such as Dropbox, UbuntuOne etc
  • Social media services like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc

What to do next?Quote

Don't turn your brain off just because you hear the phrase 'in the cloud'. The same analysis requirements apply in the cloud as for any other computing solution.


[1] My Cat is Object Oriented reference to the original paper

[2] Cloud computingWikipedia article

[3] Cloud Computing Security Considerations from the Australian Defence Signals Directorate