Security Concerns Not Slowing Public Cloud Adoption

Ask a CIO what her top concerns are with public cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), and she's almost certainly going to list security as her #1 concern. But ask her whether she's running serious applications in the public cloud, and the answer increasingly is "Yes."

Put simply, the increased agility of cloud computing trumps its many drawbacks, including security.

Security And The Cloud

And let's be clear: security is a very big issue. At least, it's a very big perceived issue. According to a recent 451 Research survey of IT executives, security concerns dwarf other inhibitors to public cloud adoption:

And yet when Forrester polled IT management, 40% of the 2000-plus enterprises surveyed indicated they have already rolled out workloads on public clouds or have near-term plans to do so, up from 30% in 2012. In 2014 that number is projected to hit 50%.

Clearly, the oft-maligned public cloud is holding its own.

For one thing, security is something of a non-argument, as enterprises generally under-invest in security. According to a 2013 SIM IT Trends Study, IT security ranks as the second-highest priority for IT leaders, yet is the 14th largest IT investment. If we assume enterprises vote for their real priorities with their wallets, then security isn't truly their biggest concern.

This isn't surprising. Security doesn't net an enterprise new customer. It's a somewhat invisible feature that gets pushed down the priority list when implementing a Big Data project or any number of other revenue-generating applications are needed.

I'll Take Your Security And Raise You Business Agility

The security argument is just one reason pundits have mistakenly assumed private cloud adoption would dwarf public cloud adoption. The other thing they've missed is how dependent the modern enterprise is on speed. At least for now, public clouds better deliver business agility and associated speed of development. Lines of business can't afford to wait around on IT to provision private cloud capacity for them when they can more easily grab it from AWS, Rackspace, Microsoft Azure or another public cloud option. 

Which is not to say that private cloud won't take off. In a conversation with Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, he pointed out that private cloud adoption is happening exactly the opposite of how many expected it to grow. The early wisdom was that risk-averse enterprises would start with private clouds and then embrace public cloud as a way to add elasticity to these private clouds. 

Instead, we're seeing widespread public cloud adoption and then enterprises are looking to complement it with private clouds to shelter data/workloads that aren't appropriate for the public cloud. Eucalyptus, fully compatible with the EC2 API, suddenly looks like a shrewd strategy.

It's Amazon All The Way Down? 

OpenStack, under Red Hat's guidance, is almost surely going to mount a significant challenge to AWS in cloud adoption. But for now, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong argues, "Nothing about OpenStack's growth trajectory suggests by EOY 2014 it gives Amazon, Azure, or Google a serious run for the money."

In other words, for now it's Amazon's world, and we're just invited to buy from it.

This was on clear display at Amazon's big re:Invent conference. The sold-out event drew over 11,000 attendees and featured an impressive array of sponsors and exhibitors, which Leong picked up on:

Can anyone knock AWS off its perch? Maybe. Forrester highlights growing interest in Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform as but two examples of significant competition:

Even so, these are public clouds. For now, whether AWS-, Microsoft-, Google- or Rackspace-branded, the dominant cloud by far is the public cloud. Valid or not, security and other concerns are getting swept aside by the public cloud's promise of improved business agility. That's likely to continue for some time for, as Forrester analyst James Staten highlighted in a recent OpenStack Conference keynote, the vast majority of enterprise IT professionals remain cloud novices.

In other words, even with its impressive adoption, the public cloud has nowhere to go but up.