A Cloudy Forecast for the Enterprise

It’s good to be the king.

Especially when you’re Google and you can glibly toss around concepts like collaborative environments, hosted applications and cloud computing like so much chit-chat at a cocktail party.

This banter gets a bit more serious, however, when the party involves enterprise computing and not the consumer space where Google made its fame and fortune rewriting the rules for search engines, online advertising and just about everything else related to the consumer market. The industry wunderkind now has its sights firmly set on the enterprise and cloud computing, which the company maintains will drive innovation in enterprise applications for the next decade.

“It’s simply the idea of data and computing power being hosted on the Internet and accessible via applications hosted on the Web,” said Rishi Chandra, a product manager at Google charged with charting the company’s course in enterprise waters.

Cloud computing will give rise to the ‘power collaborator’, who will “connect with people and find dispersed information across an organization and make it relevant,” said speaking in Boston at the Enterprise 2.0 conference continuing through Thursday.

The concept of cloud computing and Enterprise 2.0 Web-based applications and interactivity has apparently struck a positive chord with a fair number of businesses. Up to 69% cite collaboration as a key reason for the appeal of such environments, according to a survey released this week by AIIM, a non-profit group that tackles issues involving document management, content, records, and business processes. Other factors include: Improved agility and responsiveness (56%), faster communications (55%); increased innovation (39%); and a reduction in IT costs (36%).

If this ‘network is the computer’ mantra sounds a bit familiar, however, it is only because it is a concept that has been kicking around since the early days of networking and the Internet, heavily hyped by companies like Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corp. and others.

Google puts a more down home spin on it, maintaining that cloud computing will be driven by consumers who already demand the best technology from the get-go and are old hands at storing pictures, videos and other information in the cloud.

“The consumer world is more Darwinian than enterprise markets,” insists Chandra,. “You have to fight to have the best products for the end user, and the technology would be tested by millions and millions of users before entering enterprise.”

Nice theory, but Google may want to search the enterprise psyche a bit further before letting clouds get in the way of business computing reality.

“Our point of view is that real sensitive data will not be moved to the cloud, but will remain safely behind the corporate firewall,” said Kelly Shaw, a research analyst at Serena Software, an enterprise solutions developer.

Most businesses are very concerned about security and may be reluctant to store any sensitive data outside its own protected environment. Shifting data resources to the cloud and Web-based applications have their advantages in terms of accessibility and collaboration, but also have serous liabilities in terms of security.

“There isn’t a Web application made that isn’t crackable,” noted, admitting to more than a passing knowledge of virtual applications and smart data management systems.

Rather than try to stick everyone’s head and data in the clouds too quickly, it might be better to come up with a way to protect individual snippets of data as well as beef up security on the Net.

One idea would be to use mashup technology to combine and regulate where data is coming from and where it is going – something Serena Software is already doing in terms of applications development for enterprise clients. Another is to embed security right into the data, taking the James Bond approach and providing information only on a need to know basis.

This might be a challenge when dealing with the stuff packed into on your average company desktop or mobile device, however.

“Companies need to take more responsibility in terms of personal and corporate data,” added Andrzej Turski, a research software development engineer with the Creative Systems Group at Microsoft.

“There is a big question in the matter of ownership of data and intellectual property.” These issues and others will have to be resolved before the path clears for the cloud, he noted.

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