We live in a wonderful time. A new invention is changing the way we perceive the world. The grass is greener. The sky is bluer. Birdsong sounds sweeter. Trumpets are hailing a new carefree era with butler robots catering to our every need.This new technology is going to revolutionize our lives in ways that we can’t conceive of yet. I’m talking about, of course, The Cloud.

Hyperbole aside, doesn’t it sometimes feel like we’re being sold a bag of beans?

The experts would have us believe that the cloud is the Be All, End All of IT architectures. It promises to deliver ubiquitous access to business tools and information with an economy of scale that will revolutionize the IT industry. According to Gartner’s 2011 CIO Survey, cloud computing services are the top priority for IT organizations this year. Gartner goes on to predict that while today only three percent of CIOs have the majority of their IT environments running in the cloud or on SaaS technologies, that number is expected to jump to 43 percent over the next four years.

But what really is the cloud? Should we trust our data to vendors who promise to secure our mission-critical information? What exactly is in the fine print in those SLAs we sign? Will the expanse of the Internet ensure that the cloud will never fail? Is our data truly safe?

The fact is that we’re all are facing a radical consumerization of IT. Users are increasingly accessing business data, applications and email on mobile devices–often their personalhardware–making it hard to track and manage business data. With cloud applications managing your sales efforts, backing up your data, tracking your time and invoicing customers, business data is quickly flowing from robust and secure on-site server infrastructure to the cloud where we are slowing losing control.

But what about data flowing the other direction? It’s easy to upload data to the cloud, but how easy is it to pull it back?

Last spring, Amazon’s east coast data center went down, creating massive failures across the Internet. Hundreds of companies from Reddit to Foursquare went down because they were unable to fail over to other infrastructures–whether those were another cloud platform or on-site infrastructure. What was the impact on their business? How many customers did it affect?

Disaster recovery isn’t the only data issue we need to consider in the cloud. At what point are we going to hear about a cybercriminal worming his way into Salesforce.com to steal customer information? Sure, Salesforce.com employs one of the most robust security apparatuses in the industry and it’s never given us a reason to doubt its sincerity, but it’s a big target.

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