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A clear and tangled vision to benefit from the cloud

WHETHER YOU ARE AN individual, or working in a company, institution or government department, the last thing you need to be doing is setting up your own server and storage of cloud provision. You don’t generate your own electricity, pump and filter your own water, or create your own gas, nor do you refine gasoline or undertake automotive services. Why would you?

So what is the difference between the atoms and bits of ‘the cloud’, ‘the internet’, and IT in general, compared to all of the above? Zip.

The most common, and fallacious, argument I hear is: ‘I need to know where my bits are and I need to control access and connectivity.’ But these same people have no idea where their banking, insurance, medical, licence, passport, travel records are stored. We are dealing with legacy thinking here, a throwback to earlier times when IT was new and novel and DIY was the norm. Today, the technology, use and users have matured. Now it’s time to off-load and outsource big-time.

The really pertinent questions are: ‘Do I actually know what I am doing? Does our IT department? And are our security arrangements and people up to speed and on a par with Google, Amazon, Apple, Cisco, NetApp, IBM, HP, et al?’

The answer is that, unless you work for a mega corporation such as an international bank, the chances that your IT and security departments are even in the same ball park are infinitesimally small. As a quick test, ask your head of security how many PhDs in maths and computer science he has. If the reply is, ‘Why would I need such people?’ – then QED.

In the vast majority of cases, any of the major network and cloud service providers will do a far superior job of supply, support and protection than you could hope for internally, and at a fraction of your costs. Moreover, in a world rapidly seeing the death of the ‘corporate computer’ (note: it was never personal) and the rise of BYOD (bring your own device) and BMOB (be my own boss) as well as the world of apps and social networks, all semblance of corporate control and central security is rapidly being eroded.

It is no longer about firewalls and malware protection; it is now behavioural analysis and big data calling the shots. So what can individuals, companies, institutions and governments do? Be creative.

Simultaneously engage a variety of ISP and cloud providers and randomly link their use and connection. Use personal, room, building, office, home, campus, city, region, country clouds appropriately in far less predictable ways than was the practice of the past. Make connections, setting them up as transient, fixed, mobile, visible, or invisible, etc.

This will make it more difficult for the ‘dark side’ to break in and gain a foothold. Report every security and malware incident to every ISP and cloud supplier. In short, leverage the new degrees of freedom on offer with ‘cloud’ to increase your utility, security, reliability and resilience.

So why should we be doing all this? The internet will not scale economically, functionally or ecologically to nine billion people and more than 50 billion ‘things’ online, but clouds will. The old company structures and modes of working inherited from the industrial past cannot respond quickly enough to service rapidly growing and changing markets driven by exponentially advancing technology. And last but not least, creativity and problem-solving skills are in short supply, but now available globally from a cohort of workers spanning the planet.

On the other side of the coin, working practices are changing, with few long-term assignments and employment, along with the rise of new attitudes that see company and employee loyalties eroding rapidly. Typical management dwell times are now around 2.5 years, while the most creative and capable people think in tenths of a year or so.

The number of full-time employees is falling as the number of contractors and self-employed ‘transients’ increases. And the ability to solve problems and get the job done is outgunning pure academic attainment.

The biggest challenge here is not the technology. And the fact that all this will work is not in doubt. The big problem here is people and – to be specific – managers. How they change and behave is a whole new, and critical, chapter.

Peter Cochrane is an IT consultant and former chief technologist at BT

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