Cloud computing: Everything a CEO needs to know

Does the cloud sound like a great opportunity, but you feel swamped by jargon? We've spelt-out the basics for bosses.

Cloud building blocks

Cloud computing is a term that is being used a lot of late but, don't be confused by the jargon. This is a topic that is going to have a big impact on businesses of all sizes and sectors.

There will be shelfloads of books written on this topic: everything a CEO needs to know.

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Expect man-centuries of seminars to attend, oodles of golfing trips filled with opinions: this isn't going to be the last word on the topic. But, there are some basic directions to look in, and things to focus on at the chief executive level which your lower-level managers and direct reports won't necessarily have at the forefront of their minds.

Terminology

It's one of those things. Your irritation at technical types babbling away using terms they don't define, no matter how well-intended you can see they are, gets some real teeth when it comes to "cloud computing" topics. There is no body defining terminology - quite literally, no body.

So that old question to the nerds, of "what does that really mean?" has some bite to it when they start throwing around the "C" word. Your CEO's radar that trips when someone starts fibbing has probably been going off like mad when people have proposed a cloud computing product to you, mainly because there's no shortage of guys ready to wave the buzzword dictionary around while trying to sell you last year's product heavily veneered with this year's vocabulary.

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That may not actually mean they have a bad product, so don't hesitate to ask that usual terminology question: what do they really mean? If they can't explain it in a way that doesn't make sense to you, and can't clearly explain the business benefits the project will bring, don't sign the cheque.

Legal

The legal stuff comes next. In using the services of a company presiding over some of the cloud, don't let new-toy enthusiasm or open-ended promises about savings obscure traditional CEO concerns like recovery from chips-are-down disasters.

What are the genuinely usable legal recourses for the day when you get up and discover that your cloud computing provider has taken a bold stand on the WikiLeaks issue and is under attack by two-thirds of the planet?

What stops your provider from moving your data to a jurisdiction which takes a dislike to you, or them? Are they the definitive provider of last resort, or are they just reselling someone else's package?

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Due diligence isn't just a tick-box in taking up services in the cloud, It's a major component of the project time.

Lock-in

Some cloud computing systems are just a neat way of responding to peaks in demand. Others become as intimate with you as your accounting firm. There are others that will prove as intimate and immovable as your landlord.

The dream of many of the upsellers in the current wave of cloud hypesters, is to pretend to be removable, when in fact they fully intend to hook up with you for the forseeable future.

Pricing independence is very much a CEO-level question. As is the exit strategy. And cloud computing is meant to be all about steering your work to an available resource, not watching it vanish behind someone else's security gates, hopefully holding a visiting rights docket.

Impact

If IT is worth doing it's because it will bring some changes to your business. The vendors are pretty confident that cloud is the biggest change for their product ranges, work and development for the last 20 or 30 years. If that's the impact on them, then what will the impact be on you?

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Having talked at some length here about the downsides of a hype-heavy market, let's look at the upsides here. Most of the large-scale appraisals of cloud computing platforms say that cloud is somewhere in between the invention of the internet and the take-up of the BlackBerry, when it comes to impact on businesses.

Seen from the CEO's chair, this kind of upheaval can seem like an almost God-given opportunity. There are plenty of chances in there for new markets, cost reductions and shakings out, but consider just how much of a new field this is.

As with any new area, there are undoubtedly bets being made whose odds can't be properly calculated, and this time round the proposed solution consists of someone else telling you they're happy to bet with your computing resources.

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