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Scott Stantis | Chicago Tribune

5 myths about cloud computing

Cloud computing has crossed the threshold from a technology issue to a matter of political and cultural debate. It is at the center of the controversy over the National Security Agency’s collection of data in the name of counterterrorism. It has also launched conversations about the future of the workplace in the age of telecommuting. But myths swirl around the concept.

1. Itís for geeks.

A survey commissioned by Citrix in 2012 found that a majority of American adults didn’t understand what “cloud computing” meant, with 51 percent believing that stormy weather could interfere with it and 54 percent saying they never used it – even though 95 percent actually did.

Cloud-computing powers online banking and shopping, email programs such as Gmail and Yahoo, social networks, online photo and music storage, and digital libraries such as Netflix and Kindle.

The basic concept is that data and applications stored remotely can be delivered over the Internet, turning computing into a utility like electricity and water.

2. Itís a fad.

Although “the cloud” became a buzzword in popular culture in the past few years, neither the concept nor the technologies underpinning it are all that new.

What’s changed more recently is the level of investment in the cloud – and that ensures it isn’t going away anytime soon. The research firm Gartner predicts that companies will spend $788 billion on public cloud services in the next four years. And the McKinsey consulting firm forecasts that cloud technology could have an economic impact of $1.7 trillion to $6.2 trillion a year by 2025.

3. Itís not secure.

Security concerns are the main barrier to cloud adoption, as reflected in the North Bridge survey. Cloud data centers and networks are attractive targets because of the huge numbers of records they hold.

But the major cloud service providers can invest far more heavily in security than the average business can, and the average business remains pretty vulnerable.

In a 2011 survey, 90 percent of companies said they had been hacked in the previous 12 months. Security experts will tell you that the remaining 10 percent just didn’t realize they’d been hacked.

A different strain of cloud-security anxiety involves concern about government snooping. Cloud providers and tech executives have responded by ramping up their encryption efforts while aggressively pressing President Barack Obama to reform government surveillance.

4. Itís not reliable.

There have been more than a few news stories about outages affecting the big cloud providers. But what about all the outages that don’t make news? The ones in smaller corporate data centers? Or when your laptop freezes or your PC crashes? There isn’t the same level of backup, redundancy and resiliency that cloud providers can offer to contain the damage. Studies by Microsoft and others have confirmed that when businesses shift to the cloud, they see improved service availability.

5. Itís bad for the environment.

There’s no question that data centers consume huge amounts of energy. But when businesses move from on-site facilities to consolidated cloud data centers, it saves energy and cuts pollution – the same way relying on power companies is better for the environment than if everyone had to run their own generator.

In one simulation last year, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Northwestern University estimated that if all U.S. companies shifted email, spreadsheets and customer management to the cloud, they would shrink their computing energy footprints by 87 percent.

And a 2010 report from Pike Research predicted that cloud computing could cut global data-center energy use by more than a third by 2020.

Michael Skok is a general partner at North Bridge, a venture capital firm that conducts an annual cloud computing survey.