What's All The Fuss About Cloud Computing?

Author:Mr Christopher Millard

This article was first published in The Cookie Jar, the monthly

e-newsletter produced by the Bristows IT Team.

First of all, what is cloud computing? At its simplest, it is an

arrangement whereby IT resources are provided as a service via the

Internet, typically on demand and often without reference to

geography or specific local infrastructure. Popular awareness of

"the cloud" has grown recently with the launch of high

profile offerings such as Amazon Web Services, Apple's

MobileMe, and the growing popularity of the various services

provided by Google, including Gmail and GoogleApps. However, many

mainstream outsourcing and offshoring arrangements have for a long

time been delivered in a way that depends on cloud computing

concepts and infrastructure.

So, is cloud computing mature and safe? Yes and no. It all

depends what you mean by cloud computing, and what you mean by

mature and safe! Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software

Foundation, caused a stir at the end of September 2008 when he told

a journalist that he regarded the use of cloud computing resources

to be "worse than stupidity". This is almost certainly an

over-simplification! Some so-called cloud services are tried and

tested remote IT services of various kinds. In particular, there

are various mature 'Software as a Service' (SaaS) and

hosted storage and backup offerings. Such services may be delivered

by long-established major players, may generate substantial revenue

streams and may be subject to robust Services Level Agreements

(SLAs). At the other end of the spectrum, however, there is a

plethora of services provided by startups, and often at no cost to

the end-user, at least for an entry-level product. In terms of

maturity and stability, many cloud services are launched, and are

subsequently rolled-out on a substantial scale, while still at a

relatively early stage of development. Some may indeed remain in

development for an extended period.

From a legal point of view an obvious place to start in

assessing risk is to look at who is likely to be responsible for

losses that might occur "in the cloud". Many providers of

Internet email, backup, disaster recovery and other hosted cloud

services include extremely broad exclusion and / or limitation of

liability provisions in their terms of business. It may be argued

that it is reasonable for cloud service providers to adopt an

aggressive position, especially given the nascent state of the

market, and the fact that many...

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