I’m in continual awe about how much public discussion is occurring around “computing in the cloud”. Pick up any IT magazine, subscribe to pretty much any IT-oriented RSS news feed, or just scan the technology headlines on any given day. One is left to assume that cloud computing is the latest and greatest technological innovation. Hidden within the mystique of the cloud must be the answer to all the technological woes that have been plaguing all of us in the IT profession since the dawn of time – or at least the advent of the Internet.
Don’t get me wrong. I really am a big fan of cloud computing. After all, Zoot’s business model is, and has been, widely successful based on a cloud computing model. We’ve been providing instant, automated credit decisioning from the cloud for 20 years – long before it was made popular with a catchy name like “the cloud”. The thing is, it just had less dreamy names back then – like Application Service Provider (ASP) or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
I will be first to admit the terms ASP, SaaS and Cloud are not all entirely synonymous with each other. They have been the source of much confusion – especially when used as singular, matter-of-fact statements meant to be self explanatory. How many times have you heard a technology service provider say “Oh, we’re a SaaS shop” or “It’s hosted in the cloud”? Really? That’s all there is to it? Just put it in the cloud and off it goes? Kind of sounds like magic to me. And last I checked, magic DOES NOT explain everything. So, the approach I and my colleagues at Zoot have followed for quite some time is explaining our hosted software model in terms of what we offer – reliability, scalability, security, performance, continuous availability. Whether we call it ASP, SaaS, Cloud or something else is irrelevant after we get done explaining how we offer reliable, scalable, secure software in a fully hosted model that’s always available.
So, as the term Cloud Computing enters the forefront of recent discussions with various clients and prospective clients, it occurs to me that we weren’t slow to adopt the cloud in the financial services industry; we have just been slow to adopt the term. What really stood out to me about these conversations, however, is how the nature of the questions has suddenly changed from really meaty subjects like “Explain the scalability of your environment” to closed-ended questions like “Is it hosted in a Cloud?” or “Is your cloud public or private?”. Low and behold, at this juncture the conversation quickly evolves into real substance, like it always did before – like talking about how we achieve 10X transaction capacity, how we operate three live data centers in three different cities, how we provide industry-leading reliability.
But something seemed just a little off-setting to me about how “The Cloud” came into these conversations I’ve been having recently. The questions were inevitably posed in ways that elicited matter-of-fact answers. And matter-of-fact answers like “It’s a private cloud” just don’t cut it when it comes to selecting vendors to host mission-critical applications and highly sensitive data. Bank Systems and Technology quoted Adrian Kunzle, managing director and global head of engineering and architecture for JPMorgan Chase, who said it the best: “At the end of the day, whether data is sitting in our data center or somebody else’s data center, it’s all about software layers that protect external people — both regular customers and malicious people — from reaching data they shouldn’t reach.”
So, the next time a technology service provider answers your question with the statement “It’s in the cloud” using a matter-of-fact tone as if magic explains everything, do me a favor and go back to the basics with a barrage of questions. Here’s a few of my favorites to get you started:
- Can you explain to me how your “Cloud” is secured?
- What kind of reliability comes with your “Cloud”? Does it provide multi-site redundancy with automatic fail over?
- How do you monitor the transaction activity in the cloud?
- Is your cloud always available? How is it made accessible?
- How do you ensure that one tenant in the cloud doesn’t impact another? We are talking about a multi-tenant environment, right?