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  • June 29, 2016
  • By Marydee Ojala Editor in Chief, KMWorld, Conference Program Director, Information Today, Inc.
  • Article

The Clout of Clouds

Blue skies and fluffy white clouds stimulate the imagination of both children and adults. Looking up, we see cloud formations and identify them, not by their scientific names of cirrus, cumulus, and nimbus, but more fancifully as horses, spaceships, unicorns, maps of various locations, castles, puppies, palm trees, or something equally ingenious.

Those of you with a scientific bent can check out NOAA’s explanation of “Ten types of clouds”. Those with a more whimsical turn of mind will be interested in The Cloud Appreciation Society, whose mission is to unite cloud lovers around the world. The society posts photographs of interesting and gorgeous cloud formations and will email you, daily, images of cloud formations its members have found interesting. The society is also on Twitter (@CloudAppSoc) and Facebook, should you prefer to get your cloud fix through social media.

But what do we make of the knowledge managers who turn their gaze skyward and see the cloud formations as file cabinets, stacks of old floppy disks, or giant vaults? Perhaps they have become obsessed with cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud platforms, cloud solutions, and cloud repositories. Their cloud is unrelated to either astronomy or the creative imagination; it’s all about business. It’s data management in the cloud. It’s the clout of clouds.

Clouds as a Metaphor

As a metaphor, the cloud image is problematic. The Cloud Appreciation Society’s founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, calls them the “underdog of the skies.” We say people who have their heads in the clouds are a bit out of touch with reality. Not a good metaphor to use when you’re trying to convince your management that storing data in the cloud is cost-effective and perfectly safe. The notion of people with a cloud hanging over them, as opposed to their head in the clouds, describes someone who is unhappy and worried. Again, not the best of metaphors for the information manager.

What about song lyrics? Do they present clouds in a more positive fashion? The Temptations, in “My Girl,” sing about “sunshine on a cloudy day.” It’s the sunshine they celebrate, not the clouds. And when Carly Simon sings about “clouds in my coffee,” it’s about confusion and obfuscation. For Joni Mitchell, singing about “both clouds now,” the clouds got in her way and were illusions. Clearly not an ode to permanent storage.

When embracing cloud technologies, we don’t want clouded vision, we want clarity. But, like real clouds, our perception of “the cloud” varies depending upon our situation. What are we really trying to achieve when we talk about putting our data “in the cloud,” and how can we do it well?

Digital Asset Management

Mike Urbonas, from Nuxeo, challenges the claims of digital asset management (DAM) companies when they brag about their products running on cloud platforms. He doesn’t think they are either cloud-based or platforms. For him, cloud-native is the only way to go. He defines cloud-native solutions as being “designed from the ground up for the cloud. They are hosted in a cloud deployment infrastructure, such as Amazon web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.”

Nuxeo integrates content from a variety of platforms, making it seem to end users as if it was all in one local repository. That encourages collaboration, particularly in an increasingly digital workplace. The goal is to have content within the enterprise so consistently presented and accessed so coherently that knowledge workers don’t get bogged down in antiquated information retrieval systems that require them to jump through hoops to get what they need to do their jobs.

The abundance of formats is another hallmark of the digital workplace. It’s not just text people work with, it’s images as well. Versioning, keeping track of where in the updating process a piece of content is and saving it centrally, is another important component.

Enterprise Content Management

Enterprise content management (ECM) is a hot topic these days. According to

Accusoft’s Steve Wilson, the ECM market “is growing 19% faster than the overall software market.” In a sense, that’s not surprising, since moving ECM to the cloud should enable employees to stop wasting time trying to find elusive documents.

The benefits, thinks Wilson, are many, and it’s not just about productivity. Everybody wants to increase productivity; that’s pretty much a given. But moving enterprise content to the cloud also has the advantage of increasing reliability. Make sure that the information available to knowledge workers is the most current—making decisions based on data from 3 years ago when the updated data from this year is actually in an enterprise repository can have disastrous consequences. Scalability and elasticity are other advantages.

Then there’s cost. When you’ve got servers scattered around your buildings, there’s a constant need to upgrade them or buy new ones—and that costs money. The economics of cloud storage are considerably different and much more favorable to the bottom line.

ECM is also on the mind of Tori Woods Ballantine. At Hyland, she says, the company realizes that, although the cloud brings benefits, it’s most effective when you consider cloud storage as part of the entire information lifecycle. Paper has some enduring, if not necessarily endearing, qualities. However, continuing to store paper as paper rather than putting it into electronic form and storing it in the cloud is asking for trouble. She likens it to storing money in your mattress.

The advantages of the cloud include not being at the mercy of the weather, when hurricanes, flooding, and similar natural disasters can destroy paper and concomitant power outages can make onsite servers inoperable and inaccessible. Cloud storage avoids such catastrophes. I confess that Ballantine’s example of a customer affected by Hurricane Sandy particularly resonated with me. As I was writing this, a torrential storm was bending the trees outside my office window and the rain was coming down hard. According to the rain gauge outside my house, we received almost seven inches of rain and the streets were flooded, adding an extra half hour to my commute home.

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