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Maximizing Your Cloud Applications

Sluggish performance rates just behind security as a major headache for users of cloud-based apps. Can you break loose?

InformationWeek Analytics polled readers to get their take on the reliability of cloud-based services, from platforms to storage, virtualization, and applications. While just 27% now use cloud services or plan to within 12 months, an additional 25% are evaluating. Forty-eight percent say they have no plans. That seems high, until you consider that in our last major poll on the subject, in July, 65% didn't consider cloud computing a priority. Whether it's the economy, marketing, or the lure of the bandwagon, we're seeing increasing comfort with the cloud concept.

But IT pros are still keenly aware of the risks.

"The two biggest weaknesses of cloud computing are reliability and security," says one respondent. "Is the service going to be available 24/7? What happens when the Internet fails in a crisis? If there is a rush on the service, will the service collapse in a political or market crisis? Will our data and other information be compromised? How will we know if it has been compromised?"

No one has all the answers. One thing we do know is that the dearth of standard monitoring metrics, cloud vendors' reluctance to reveal performance statistics, and our own inability to guarantee connectivity quality on the Internet have combined to move performance from a small annoyance to certified nightmare status for organizations that have accelerated their adoption without proper planning.

You may be thinking, folks are reporting good success; if performance was bad, wouldn't we hear about it? Maybe not. Moving apps into the cloud is so darn easy, no one wants to face up to the dark side. There's certainly some Kool-Aid going around among our survey respondents: 33% say cloud-based applications have performed better than their in-house counterparts, and 54% say performance of their cloud-based applications has improved.

Fact check, please.

Forty percent of respondents using cloud computing don't monitor application performance. Just 16% use WAN acceleration, and a mere 20% have scoped out the potential impact of a cloud service on their Internet architectures. So how can they possibly quantify performance?

It pays to do your homework. As your organization takes a hard look at the cloud, study those who are doing it right. Respondents who've put monitoring tools in place and done assessments report the highest level of satisfaction with their cloud applications and had the best ratings of performance over the last year. They likely have realistic expectations and have put technologies and bandwidth in place to ensure service levels. Those who haven't done any of that? They had the lowest ratings. If you don't flesh out your data plan and establish a way to respond to issues, you're setting yourself up for a fall.

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Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize risk and gain the leverage you'll need to hold cloud vendors responsible when you do have problems--and trust us, you will have problems. The first thing to remember is that these services depend on the collaborative structure of the Internet. Every vendor, whether your established ISP or a cloud startup, has a disclaimer in its service-level agreement for items beyond its control. Want to get a cloud storage vendor to even guarantee basic connectivity to your data? Good luck, let us know how that goes.

Now, we're not saying the lack of an SLA means you're guaranteed subpar performance. But it does mean you need to have a plan to ensure that you're getting the most out of your investment. More and more software vendors are retooling their applications to provide better performance monitoring and control options; however, we have yet to see a tool that can give IT a true end-to-end picture of what's occurring. You'll still need to piece that together with available monitoring software, data from ISP and cloud partners, and some good old-fashioned customization based on your planned usage. Here's a five-step process.

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