Data off premise no longer taboo for change averse Microsoft shops

As Microsoft shops take their first steps toward the cloud, many feel more comfortable putting critical data in the hands of third party providers.

ATLANTA -- In IT management, Windows administrators have been among the least willing to embrace the idea that enterprise data might reside off site in either a public cloud or hosted service. Though the idea is no longer unthinkable, it does come with plenty of conditions.

At TechEd here this week, IT managers who once shunned the idea of running data offsite seem to have opened the door a crack. And cloud computing is a possibility for the not too distant future.

One Microsoft executive said the maturation of technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing have inspired this increased confidence among IT managers.

"We see changes in how users want to deploy and use applications, yet get the same value out of them,” said Andrew Wolfe, Microsoft’s senior product manager of worldwide licensing and pricing. “Several factors are coming together including customers getting more comfortable about managing their infrastructure for them, as well as virtualization taking on a greater role in some of these scenarios."

We see changes in how users want to deploy and use applications, yet get the same value out of them.

Andrew Wolfe, Microsoft senior product manager of worldwide licensing and pricing

Spirit Aerosystems, the Wichita, Kansas-based former commercial division of Boeing, has turned nearly 30% of its operations over to IBM and HP to accommodate a global expansion. The company continues to develop its own applications though most of the data will be managed by IBM in Raleigh, N.C.

“Because we are growing globally, cloud computing is more important because of our contracts with other airplane manufacturers,” Steve Williams, a system architect said, though he added most of what he’s seen so far is hyperbole.

Data recovery options and business continuity are two natural areas where traditional Windows shops will consider placing sensitive data off-site. Crutchfield Corp. takes great pains to keep customer data in house and locked down. Any sort of managed computing over the Internet is hard for a company that must deal with Payment Card Industry security standards, said an IT manager at the Charlotte, Va.-based retailer.

That said, cloud data recovery options and business continuance for Web applications are worthy of consideration, but definitely not for file storage, the manager said.

Regulatory constraints also keep European companies with strong privacy laws, and at least one major Southwestern energy lab from running its data off site. But where the idea was strictly verboten, the winds are changing.

“If a vendor can meet our legal, technical and monetary requirements, we will consider the option,” the lab IT manager said. One of the first applications under consideration is hosted Exchange. The lab has a contract and a Microsoft manager who works directly with the lab.

Travelocity travels to the cloud
Travelocity, the online travel agency, launched its first cloud-based application here this week. It is a Java-based business intelligence and analysis system designed to offload some of the processing burdens of its data centers, as well as improving scalability and performance.

While it has taken its first steps towards the cloud, the company has no plans to use a third party to manage its cloud-based application and data. As it adds more cloud-based applications down the road that may become a consideration, said Vinay Moharil, director of mobile development at Travelocity.

"We have a strong monitoring and ops management staff,” Moharil said. “For the level of monitoring and managing we need in the cloud now, we can get enough support through the Azure portal. As our cloud footprint grows and essentially becomes another datacenter, our ops group may get more involved with service providers."

Despite the global warming toward allowing data to run offsite in some capacity, not every company is on the verge of acceptance. One Windows platform manager at a large McLean, Va.-based bank said he doesn’t expect attitudes to change anytime soon. Lines of business that do not touch customer data may provide some exceptions, however.

“It’s still too new,” he said. “Companies with vital data won’t jump.”

The manager then rushed off to a conference session. The topic? Security in the cloud.

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