In November, the Harvard Business School hosted its annual Tech Conference, the “Cyberposium.”  The purpose of the event was to give its top-notch business students exposure to key issues they will face as they go out and act as leaders of American and international business.

This year, the Cyberposium focused on the “digital storm,” addressing the cutting-edge challenges that the U.S. faces today.  Regrettably, I could not stay for the entire conference, but I was able to enjoy the keynote speaker, Jim Balsillie, the co-CEO of Research in Motion (RIM), of Blackberry fame.  I also was privileged to be a panelist on one of the many superb panels the student organizers arranged.

The keynote was surprisingly technical for a business school audience, and he used quite a few acronyms – and lots of jargon.  The audience did not seem daunted by this, testifying to the technological savvy of today’s young business students.  The thrust of his talk was that in the tech business, you have to be willing to take chances.  Using his own experiences, and lots of great RIM research numbers, he showed that you need to do your research, develop as good a product as you can, and then go for it.  Nothing is ever set or assured in business.  RIM/Blackberry went from a pretty minor slice of the market to the lion in only a few years.   Balsillie said they never thought it would turn out as big as it did.  Next he pointed out that you had to be ready to fight, to adapt and to never sit back, regardless of your predominance.  He drove his points home with great market research on the smart phone industry.  It was a very instructive.

My panel was one of a few on various aspects of cloud computing.  It had a moderator from Gartner, and participants from major cloud providers, Cloudswitch, Rightscale, Rackspace, Micosoft, vCloud/VMWare, and of course IBM.  Despite all of us being competitors, there was surprising unanimity and support among the group.  Everyone agreed that the cloud was not just a fad but the next major trend in IT methodology.  It was not a perfect solution, but the positives were so obvious and so prevalent that it was not going to go away.  It will grow and spread because it saves money, provides major advantages to enterprises large and small, and in fact, adds security overall.

The Cloud does not come without disadvantages, and these were noted as well.  These could in fact be accentuated, depending on the provider (see my earlier posts on cloud computing here).  If the customer was not sufficiently vigilant, and did not “force” the provider to prove capabilities, there would be major risks. The needed assurances included security of data (at rest, in motion and old-fashioned physical security), the ability to store data for extended periods, and the ability to search and retrieve data for discovery purposes, emergency back-up plans, vetting of trusted administrators, and other key tasks. These are all easy to claim but a lot harder to actually do.

All agreed that a company looking to a move to cloud computing (which is frankly everyone), must evaluate their present methodology, to see what they now have, shop around to see where they can obtain the best mix of real capability in a provider, and how big a gain they will get from their investment.  There is a huge potential market for firms to do these sorts of evaluations for companies of all sorts.

We are going for the cloud folks, but we need to make sure we do not see a willy-nilly rush that includes providers who really cannot deliver.  That will be costly and dangerous.  If you go with reputable providers, you will be fine.  So, as said in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Choose wisely.”

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More