Two separate articles examine what might be termed cloud computing's messy early adolescence and how small businesses ought to respond. (For more of our take on cloud computing--we're big fans! particularly for small businesses--see here.) Both articles suggest there is probably some turbulence ahead as cloud computing software becomes increasingly specialized and professional. Which is to say, growing pains: temporary, but important, bumps in the road to cloud computing's future as an inexpensive, efficient, and productive way of conducting business.
A column at bMighty observes that "Cloud services have evolved in a willy-nilly fashion," with as many developers as possible trying to jump on board as quickly as possible, and leaving questions such as universal standards and compatability for later. However, such larger and important questions are finally beginning to be tackled, the author says. His conclusion? "Small and midsize companies need to be aware that these services' management functions may be lacking. Their option then is to deploy services with limited functionality or hold off for a year or two until the vendors get the kinks out of the emerging services."
We'd take this a step further, and note that many cloud computing applications are, frankly, unsophisticated. We think, for example, that Google Docs is as worthwhile as Microsoft Word because of all the cloud advantages. But the damn thing doesn't even have a word-count function yet! But, we can safely assume, one day it will.
Caution, in other words, might be the better part of wisdom for the time being. Stick to what you know works, and let cloud computing work out its kinks, and then join the party. But, we'd add: be careful you don't join too late--before your competitors experience the ultimate savings and boosted productivity that we think will come to be associated with cloud computing.
Meanwhile, that charming English newsweekly The Economist runs a solid article on open-source cloud computing software. "The argument has been won," it concludes. "It is now generally accepted that the future will involve a blend of both proprietary and open-source software."
And what about cloud computing? The magazine is quite keen on the pluses: "There are many advantages to this approach for both customers (lower cost, less complexity) and service providers (economies of scale)." But it warns against what bMighty does: the lack of universal standards (it comes up with a brilliant way of thinking about this: imagine transferring your MySpace profile to Facebook--you'd literally just have to retype everything!). "The obvious answer" to this obstacle "is to establish agreed standards for moving data between clouds," the magazine says. "An industry effort to this effect kicked off in March. But cloud computing is still in its infancy, and setting standards too early could hamper innovation." Good point.
So where does that leave small businesses? "Buyers of cloud-computing services must take account of the dangers of lock-in, and favour service providers who allow them to move data in and out of their systems without too much hassle." Don't, in other words, to any single cloud computing software or software suite in a manner that becomes effectively irrevocable.
The general lesson seems to be that while cloud computing is no doubt the future, and may even be the present, at this point the buyer ought to beware somewhat. The cloud might not be thick enough to catch you. Not just yet, anyway.
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