The greatest challenge facing longer-term adoption of cloud computing services is not security, but rather cloud interoperability and data portability, say cloud computing experts from IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional association. At the same time, IEEE’s experts say cloud providers could reassure customers by improving the tools they offer enterprise customers to give them more control over their own data and applications while offering a security guarantee.

Today, many public cloud networks are configured as closed systems and are not designed to interact with each other. The lack of integration between these networks makes it difficult for organizations to consolidate their IT systems in the cloud and realize productivity gains and cost savings. To overcome this challenge, industry standards must be developed to help cloud service providers design interoperable platforms and enable data portability, topics that will be addressed at IEEE Cloud 2011, 4-9 July in Washington, D.C.    

“Security is certainly a very important consideration, but it’s not what will inhibit further adoption,” said Dr. Alexander Pasik, CIO at IEEE and an early advocate of cloud computing as an analyst at Gartner in the 1990s. “To achieve the economies of scale that will make cloud computing successful, common platforms are needed to ensure users can easily navigate between services and applications regardless of where they’re coming from, and enable organizations to more cost-effectively transition their IT systems to a services-oriented model.”

According to industry research firm IDC, revenue from public cloud computing services is expected to reach US$55.5 billion by 2014, up from US$16 billion in 2009. Cloud computing plays an important role in people’s professional and personal lives by supporting a variety of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications used to store healthcare records, critical business documents, music and e-book purchases, social media content, and more. However, lack of interoperability still presents challenges for organizations interested in consolidating a host of enterprise IT systems on the cloud.

According to IEEE Fellow Elisa Bertino, professor of Computer Science at Purdue University and research director at the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance, the interoperability issue is more pressing than perceived data security concerns. “Security in the cloud is no different than security issues that impact on-premises networks. Organizations are not exposing themselves to greater security risks by moving data to the cloud. In fact, an organization’s data is likely to be more secure in the cloud because the vendor is a technology specialist whose business model is built on data protection.”  

However, Steve O’Donnell, IEEE Member and former global head of Data Centres at BT in the United Kingdom, suggested much of the concern is about control for IT managers. “There’s a lack of enterprise tools that enable management of security and availability in the cloud in the same way as in a data center,” he said. “Enterprises believe their own data centers are secure and available, and want to own the management of cloud security and availability rather than outsourcing it to a third party.”

Dr. Pasik, an IEEE Senior Member,  suggests one creative solution to reassure organizations their data is secure on the cloud is to develop an insurance-based approach, similar to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in the U.S.  “The vast majority of Americans have bank accounts because they know their money is safe,” said Pasik. “I see a similar type of guarantee, supported by private industry, being offered to users of cloud computing within the next 10 years.”  

As more organizations migrate IT services and systems to the cloud as a result of improved interoperability and portability, the market will reach an economic tipping point. On average, it might cost an organization about US$500 per user to manage an enterprise e-mail system in-house, said Pasik. “Compare that to the cost of running a cloud based enterprise e-mail service, which might be around US$50 per user. That’s a ten-fold economic impact that makes a strong business case for cloud technology. And it’s removing a system from your network that isn’t directly tied to most organizations’ core competencies, so why commit resources to supporting it internally?”

For its part, in April IEEE’s Standards Association announced its Cloud Computing Initiative, the first broad-scope, forward-looking effort put forth by a global standards development organization aimed at addressing cloud portability and interoperability.

Additional IEEE resources and multimedia content on cloud computing include:

IEEE Spectrum – “Cloud Computing: It’s Always Sunny in the Cloud”:
IEEE Cloud 2011, The 4th International Conference on Cloud Computing, 4-9 July, Washington, D.C. –