Most IT professionals think that a transfer of services to the cloud means less work for them. The truth is, that isn't always the case. Cloud services are a different set of technologies altogether, which might mean adopting a new way of thinking in terms of managing them. Problems ranging from lax security policies to orphan accounts and other problems aren't uncommon in cloud computing. So what can you do to better manage them? Read on to find out. (For some background reading on cloud computing, check out Cloud Computing: Why the Buzz?)

The Various Problems of Cloud Computing

Even before the cloud came in, companies already had IT infrastructure in place. Cloud systems don't just integrate seamlessly with existing systems. In order to manage them, IT needs to get to know the cloud platforms. The good news is that most services usually offer tools that make managing cloud applications much easier.

That can make dealing with the problems that come with cloud computing a little easier, too. The main problems associated with various cloud computing applications and platforms include:

  1. Reliability
    What happens when a cloud computing service provider suddenly goes out of business? Or what if its system crashes? Both of these scenarios can leave its clients with limited access to their own data.

  2. Ownership
    Who gets to own the data in the cloud? Is it the client or the service provider? Companies can lose ownership of part or all of the data they transfer to the cloud. This could create problems in terms of protecting customer data and privacy.

  3. Security
    This is the top concern for most IT professionals because with cloud storage, there are so many access points involved. The weakest link is the vulnerability of data stored in the cloud, which may be exposed to hacking, theft or be stolen by unhappy or lax employees.

  4. Data Backup
    With the use of redundant servers, cloud service providers have multiple copies of a company's data available. That's a good thing, but it also poses some additional risk in terms of security.

  5. Data Portability
    Even if the cloud provider does not go out of business, a company may still change providers for a variety of reasons. Would you be able to do so and easily transfer your data from one provider to another?

  6. Multi-Platform Support
    With different operating systems such as Linux, OS X and Windows, companies must consider just how seamlessly the cloud platforms would integrate into existing systems. This will help IT to better manage the new cloud system rather than looking for custom adaption.

  7. Intellectual Property
    If you need to develop a new system that uses a part of your cloud infrastructure, will you still be able to patent it? Will the service provider claim any rights on your own invention? Those are questions companies must ask before they proceed.
Cloud computing systems suffer from the many of same problems that plague proprietary and in-house systems, plus a few of its own. The problem is that these problems are often out of IT's control, at least compared to the amount of control that can be exerted over in-house solutions. (You can read more about the issues faced in implementing cloud computing in The Dark Side of the Cloud.)

Expectations About the Cloud

Another big problem that companies run into when they move systems over to the cloud is their expectations. In other words, those expectations are often too high. Remember that it is very unrealistic to think that moving any system to the cloud will be painless and problem free. As we have mentioned, it means learning and managing a new system on top of the current one.

However, what makes managing cloud apps even more complicated is the fact that there are so many cogs and wheels involved, and these have to be managed separately. For example, more than the technology and the platform, IT personnel need to manage security separately, and take care of the human side of the security equation as well.

It's also important to know that problems will materialize, even with the largest cloud service provider. For example, Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud crashed in April 2011, causing outages at Reddit, Foursquare, Hootsuite and Quora. This isn't to say that cloud services are faulty, but like any technology, they aren't fool-proof.

Best Practices for Managing Cloud Applications

So what should you do to avoid these headaches? Here are some best practices companies should follow when moving to the cloud.

  1. Get Legal Help
    Consult a legal professional or your in-house lawyer when it comes to contracts. This will help you know for sure who gets the ownership of your data in the cloud. What's more, do not contract a cloud service provider that would claim ownership of any part of your data. A lawyer can also walk you through intellectual property issues.

  2. Set Up a Transparent Relationship With Cloud Providers
    Transparency is key. During negotiations with your cloud service provider, always lay out your requirements to ensure the potential provider is able to deliver. Also ensure that you can monitor the level of service the cloud provider delivers by asking for reports and logs.

  3. Invest in Application Performance Management
    Application management tools should be built for virtual environments such as the cloud. This way you can monitor your cloud apps on your own and see for yourself how the data goes from your own network to the cloud.

  4. Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
    It is considered best practice to contract different cloud service providers, even if it means paying a bit more. This ensures that if a certain provider shuts down, the disruption to business will be limited.

  5. Don't Put All Systems on the Cloud at Once
    Make sure that you have phases for implementing cloud systems. Start by putting up some applications to see how it goes. If it goes well, put up the next batch of applications and continue monitoring. This way, you can focus on one batch first and if anything goes wrong, you can limit the damage to your site or network.

  6. Avoid Relying on One Monitoring Tool
    Remember that when it comes to performance monitoring, there is no perfect tool. This means you should be prepared to get a set of tools to be able to do the things you need.

  7. Allow Data Dumps or Regular Downloads of Backed Up Data
    This allows you to have a copy of your latest backups from your cloud provider so you'll have it ready on your servers in case you need it.

  8. Find Cloud Providers With Open Standards
    Using a cloud provider that uses open standards ensures that similar data conversion and porting formats will be used by other providers. This makes transferring data to another provider easy and avoids the potential cost of customized data conversion.

No Magic Bullet to the Cloud

The cloud isn't problem-free, but its benefits are proving increasingly persuasive for many companies. There is no magic pill when it comes to managing cloud applications, and what works for one company may not work for another. For IT pros working to implement cloud systems, following best practices could help avoid problems, or at least limit the impact in the event that something goes wrong. Because, inevitably, it will.