Say, does anyone know how to work this cloud thing?

Too often, eager businesses overlook the time and skill set investment necessary to realize the benefits of cloud services

As InfoWorld's David Linthicum pointed out a few weeks ago, the public cloud isn't likely to save you money. What you really get is a tremendous amount of pay-as-you-go agility that you'd be hard-pressed to realize with on-premise resources. At its core, that's what the cloud really does well, and it truly deserves attention for it.

It's vitally important, though, to realize that simply because your services are based somewhere else on hardware you don't own doesn't mean you'll spend less time on administration duties. In fact, you may even create skill set gaps within your IT department where there previously weren't any -- forcing you to rely upon much more expensive external help.

I found a good example this week. A fairly large company I work with currently runs its email on Microsoft Exchange 2003 and is considering a long overdue upgrade to Exchange 2010 -- and determining whether to move to Exchange in the cloud is part of that decision.

On paper, it looks like an excellent idea. Hosted Exchange -- whether through Microsoft BPOS or a third party -- is a relatively cheap pay-as-you-go service . Even better, all day-to-day management (save user provisioning) disappears and is handled by someone else. Or so it would seem.

While cloudsourcing lightens the workload for server and storage administrators, it can also simply change the nature of the work to troubleshooting frequent email application performance issues. Is the site's Internet connection responsible for slow or disrupted access to email? Or is it a case of the email service underperforming (as recent events have shown)?

Sure, you don't need to worry about patching servers, provisioning storage, and monitoring backups. Instead, you may end up sitting on the phone with the provider, buying more Internet bandwidth, or implementing more thorough Internet traffic shaping.

When you jump to an IaaS (infrastructure as a service) provider, such as Amazon Web Services, a different shift in skill sets may occur. Yes, you can forget about server and storage admin work, since that's all "in the cloud," but you absolutely need someone who thoroughly understands AWS and knows how to manage and protect the services based there.

Not only is it difficult and expensive to find people with experience operating infrastructure in the cloud, you may discover that many of the skills you already have in-house don't translate well to the cloud. Getting the best results from services like EC2 and S3 generally requires taking advantage of a range of different scripting and monitoring APIs -- not to mention building your own contingency plan for a cloud infrastructure failure by implementing data protection and business continuity methodologies (the need for which were underlined by recent cloud-based outages).

The moral is this: When you consider a move to the cloud, make sure you carefully consider the human aspects in your decision. As compelling as the agility and elasticity arguments are, the cloud may not always be easier to manage, especially if you lack staff with the experience to do the job well. To put it more bluntly, those who think they can save money by going to the cloud and laying off admins may soon find themselves hiring "cloud specialists" in addition to shelling out for cloud services.

This article, "Say, does anyone know how to work this cloud thing?," originally appeared at Read more of Matt Prigge's Information Overload blog and follow the latest developments in storage at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.