Analysis Blighty’s cloud computing industry now has a trade body that wants to champion trust in data stored at a tech firm’s outhouse, by getting vendors to commit to certification that, by mid-2011, will be independently scrutinised. We just don't know by whom - yet.
Step forward the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), which this week was a guest at Microsoft’s UK headquarters in Victoria, London, where the group was showing off its soon-to-be launched code of practice for the cloud computing biz sector.
Trade bodies in that field are burgeoning as IT channel players begin to recognise that cloud computing isn’t a fad, but instead is here to stay.
Yet despite many resellers now admitting defeat and getting with the cloud programme, some are still rightly nervous about the processes involved. After all, they’re listening to customers, many of whom remain resoutely wary about the technology.
CIF wants to help change those perceptions by convincing IT vendors to sign up to its code of practice, which will be launched next month.
It’s asking small and large tech firms to pledge allegiance to the code by offering reassurances around data location security, portability of contracts and transparency about who is behind a given service, what risks could be involved, and who ultimately controls the infrastructure.
The idea being that consumer confidence will grow in cloud computing only if tech firms, in effect, self-regulate their service.
“It’s all about focusing on trust between the end user and the supplier,” said CIF chairman and Fasthosts boss Andy Burton.
Indeed, the body’s desire to get companies to sign up to such a code of practice will probably be seen as a noble one.
But will the likes of Google, Salesforce and apparent CIF friend Microsoft be willing to cheaply give away their commercial terms in a software industry shifting from a lock-in licence model to one that might have similar aspirations for the cloud?
“You’ll have to ask them,” Burton told El Reg.
“I can’t speak for any one individual company but, am I optimistic and hopeful that very large global players will sign up? Absolutely, yes I am. Do I think our success is predicated on if they do or don’t join us? No I don’t. The nature of the cloud is about opening it up for everyone," said Burton.
But that in many ways remains the biggest hurdle. The UK’s current IT policy, last tweaked by Whitehall’s previous incumbents in January this year, remains bereft of a regulator; the cloud industry itself is bitching over standards; and in the middle of it all stand the perplexed customers who are squinting their eyes to read the small print.
Billions of people don't practice a religion at all
Of course, the public sector is one of the biggest customers in the UK when it comes to cloud computing. The government - with its G-Cloud project - has already committed, in principle, to investing in that area.
All of which prompts the question, will the Cameron-Clegg Coalition try and put its own stamp on the plan?
Intellect’s digital systems’ director Ian Osborne reckons it merely needs a bit of fine-tuning. “It’s a sound strategy but I think it’s going to be focused and priortised,” he told The Register.
Microsoft, publicly at least, has some sympathy for the little guy.
“The core competence for a typical business is not about running IT,” noted MS partner sales UK director Shaun Frolich, who briefly flirted with the CIF audience before scuttling off to presumably avoid any awkward questions about that other area of cloud computing Microsoft is struggling to get right - reliability.
He pointed out that Redmond never considered what was right under its nose before. But now that everyone else has caught on, the company is keen to ride the cloud computing train.
“We didn’t think of Hotmail etc as cloud products previously. But now we look at it and it is.”
Frolich then rolled out some impressive numbers. He said Microsoft was spending 70 per cent of 2010 R&D $9.5bn funds on the cloud. The company claims 16,000 partners worldwide are selling online services and 45,000 ISVs are building on the vendor’s Azure platform.
He was equally bullish about partner investment, saying that $2bn would be spent on the network in 2011.
And then, as Frolich put it, the screen containing his presentation “started blinking at us”.
When it did come back to life it revealed that MS had splurged £10m on cloud marketing in the UK this year.
Despite all that, Frolich agreed with CIF that trust remains a huge issue in cloud computing. By way of example he even confessed that some Microsoft employees had recently been hoodwinked by a recent ESTA scam after clicking the wrong links online.
“I’ve seen the expenses,” he said, confirming that even his own company wasn’t immune to being caught out by the darker side of the interwebs.
But will Microsoft endorse the code of practice to be laid out in full by the CIF on 18 October?
That’s unlikely, because - like cloud trade bodies that have gone before CIF - a lack of regulation combined with industry indifference can all too often make for a gummy proposal. ®