Businesses confused by the cloud: survey

CN Tower in the cloudsFinding your customers are confused about what exactly the cloud is, much less what it means to them? They’re not alone.

According to a new study of Canadian businesses by CA Technologies, nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of Canadian business executives aren’t exactly sure what the cloud is or what it’s going to mean to their business. And if they’re having trouble with it, perhaps it’s because they aren’t getting the best advice possible. Consider this: 23 per cent of IT executives themselves are confused by the whole cloud thing.

In an obvious-but-brilliant little bit of event planning, CA announced the results of the survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, atop Toronto’s CN Tower, quite literally in the clouds. Here’s what the survey had to say.

According to the study, 23 per cent of Canadian businesses are using public cloud technologies, while 36 per cent are using private cloud today. Think that’s a little higher than what you’re seeing in your customer base? So does Jimmy Fulton, country manager for Canada at CA, who openly pondered what percentage of that “public cloud” crowd had a cloud strategy that consisted of “buy” Still, about half of those studied considered Canada to be on par with worldwide adoption rates of cloud technologies, while a third suggested they believe Canada is lagging behind. That’s more in line with Fulton’s view – he said he believes U.S.-based companies are moving to the cloud more quickly.

“Big organizations in the U.S. are thinking about it very hard, but the Canadian IT industry seems to be much more deliberate and require much more business motivation before they launch into the next big thing,” Fulton said.

The public cloud is catching on more quickly in Quebec (30 per cent adoption rate) than in Ontario or Alberta (21 per cent and 11 per cent respectively.)

Top motivations for those who do move to the public cloud (no surprises here) include: cost savings, efficient use of IT resources, scalability and flexibility. But Fulton said that IT is missing the biggest potential benefit of the public cloud: business agility. Like many others, Fulton compares it to the revolution in electricity when businesses went from having their own generators to relying on a shared utility.

“IT is heading that way – letting businesses focus on what businesses want to focus on,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but in my mind, it’s inevitable.”

On the private side, it’s similar driving forces. Cost savings is the biggest one, but surprisingly, security is the number two factor. Other top considerations include accessibility to users, flexibility, manageability, business continuity and disaster recovery.

And while cost is certainly a major driver – there’s a disconnect between IT and business here. Business leaders see cost savings as the biggest driver clearly, but IT professionals are less bullish on the cost savings. “They understand it’s not a free endeavor,” Fulton said.

So is the cloud hype? Certainly CA doesn’t think so, having invested more than $1 billion (U.S.) in cloud computing-related technologies over the last 14 months. And fortunately, the business landscape agrees with their assessment. Despite the high level of confusion over what exactly what it is “cloud” means, only seven per cent said they felt the cloud is “just hype.”

The most enthusiastic support for the cloud comes from the top – the CEOs and senior business executives who are most bullish on the cost savings benefits. The most grumbling about the idea tends to come from the security and privacy teams. That disconnect is also seen in concerns for moving to the cloud – while both business executives and IT leaders list security and privacy issues (most notably the U.S. Patriot Act) as top concerns, IT execs are 10 per cent more likely to recognize it as a serious challenge (68 per cent to 58 per cent.)

“We think about the cloud as if it’s out there and it’s everywhere, but location matters – where the cloud exists matter an awful lot,” said Dr. Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he tracks privacy issues closely.

Those concerns are also what resonate most for CA and its solution provider partners, Fulton suggested. “That’s why this transition and this survey are important to us,” he said.