The main panel discussion was moderated by Doug Toombs of Tier1 Research, and included four panelists from local business. While I didn't learn anything new about cloud technologies, I did get a better insight into the questions that local organizations are asking. They're not asking whether AWS has direct connect for its US West region. They're not asking about Microsoft Dynamics or the energy efficiency of Gmail, either.
So what are they asking? The bulk of the session was devoted to questions from Toombs to the panel about their use of cloud computing and their hurdles so far. For example, Toombs asked the panel about their reasons for using the cloud, was it all about cost savings? Mike Benney, CIO at Pulaski Bank replied that it wasn't about cost savings per se, it was about providing value to the business. "If IT can't provide value to the business, move it out... make them justify added expense of doing it in-house."
The conversation then moved to security objections to cloud computing. Mark Showers, CIO at RGA, noted that the vendors are "relatively mature" and suggested that security wasn't the largest real problem being faced with cloud computing. "It's hard to argue we can provide better security [than cloud players who specialize in the services]." What is Showers seeing? One major problem is identity management – dealing with internal and external identity, as well as different IDs between multiple Software as a Service (SaaS) providers.
Grier Raclin, formerly counsel at Saavis and now in private practice in IT, said that it was far beyond security. "It's a lawyer's playground." He noted that there are a lot of laws for firms to consider about where data is stored and accessed, not just from a security perspective, but from a legal one.
During the audience Q&A I had an opportunity to ask the question that's most on my mind: How do you compare apples to apples? The offerings between different cloud providers are hard to compare. The unanimous answer? You really can't. Toombs says that he's tried to find a way to lay out an apples to apples comparison and "could not come up with a consistent model." For instance, Service Level Agreements (SLAs) differ greatly between providers. Mike Palmer, CTO at XIOLINK, added that there's an "amazing" difference in performance "depending on provider."
The Silver Lining
What was particularly interesting about the session for me wasn't so much what the panel had to say, though. It's the audience that turned up on a Tuesday morning to hear about cloud. I don't have an attendee list, but my guess is that there were well more than 100 attendees. I spoke to several attendees, and the impression I have is that most of them were hearing enough hype that they decided to see what the fuss is. There was genuine interest in figuring out the cloud, but the marketing messages aren't doing a great job of explaining what the what is.
But the good news is, there's a receptive audience that is curious about improving their IT in St. Louis. It's mostly a matter of speaking their language.
Arch image from Flickr by Jeff Coffman