Although cloud computing in all of its various forms has its share of detractors (largely along the lines of “If it ain’t in my datacenter, it ain’t secure!” or “Google?!? You want me to give my data to Google?!??!”), there is little doubt that cloud computing models can save money and provide powerful, convenient services via the Internet.
While most services we access today (everything from Google Apps to Dropbox to World of Warcraft) leverage the so-called public cloud, some organizations are turning to a “community cloud” model.
There are some organizations for which using the public cloud simply isn’t an option, either because of regulations, specific security concerns, or the lack of specialized services.
In the public cloud, user data is kept separate from that of other users logically rather than physically, with bits and bytes from Acme Anvils potentially sitting digitally next to bits and bytes from Acme TNT in a server cluster. In general, this isn’t an issue and it would be extraordinarily difficult (if not impossible) for the folks from Acme Anvils to ever access Acme TNT data, or vice versa.
But when you’re the CIA and your data might be distributed on worldwide server clusters or you are an international bank with data on hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, the stakes become quite high for those who might attempt to access the data.
Regulations in the healthcare industry complicate any potential vulnerability in the cloud and even public educational institutions have lengthy discussions about the cloud in the context of their regulatory environment. Foreign corporations have struggled for some time using U.S. cloud providers since their data, if it resides on servers on U.S. soil (which may not be obvious in a highly distributed computing environment), becomes subject to seizure by the U.S. government under the Patriot Act.
Even if security is not the primary concern, development of highly specialized applications in the cloud may not make sense financially or logistically.
Media companies have struggled for some time with workflows, digital distribution, and file exchanges among various stakeholders, many of whom are scattered around the world. There are no turnkey public cloud applications that can address the specific needs of the media community and the file sizes involved make leveraging the public cloud cost-prohibitive.
So a “media community cloud” is under development that uses cloud technologies for centralized computing and storage but meets the very specific needs of the community.
Similarly, healthcare organizations are increasingly forming consortia and developing community clouds that comply with HIPAA regulations but allow them to achieve economies of scale and deploy high-powered, specialized applications by distributing the cost among the members of the consortia. This is a major step forward over each institution needing to host data and applications on premise and bear the total cost of management and development work themselves.
Ultimately, the public cloud has the potential to save organizations the most money and devote the most resources to strategic growth and development instead of day-to-day IT. However, a growing number of organizations that share similar missions, concerns, or specialized needs are turning to community clouds for more modest cost savings and the more significant benefit of collaborative development and shared responsibility.
Chris Dawson is a writer, speaker, and analyst with particular interests in educational technology, healthcare IT, and the intersection of the two with the cloud and BI. He is a contributing editor at ZDNet, Ziff Davis, and UBM Channel, and a senior editor at Edukwest. You can follow him on Twitter (@mrdatahs) and Google+ (+Christopher Dawson).