I recently read a post by David Linthicum in which he proposes that a key benefit of cloud computing is the ability to transfer risk from the enterprise to the cloud provider.
At first glance, this seems an obvious benefit of using a public cloud for computing resources. Cloud providers take care of the onerous task of providing computing resources across an organization. If the resources need to be updated, require critical maintenance, or need emergency action, the cloud provider will provide those services. Enterprise IT departments are left to devote effort toward delivering technological capabilities to the business. However, does any of this imply a transfer of risk?
I'd answer that question with "It depends." Whether or not an enterprise has transferred risk by contracting with a public cloud provider depends on the provisions in the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that exists between the enterprise and provider. In some cases (maybe most) the SLA simply provides a refund for a portion of the service fee based on the impacted services. This is clearly not a case of transference of risk. The loss of current and new business sustained by the enterprise during the service outage is not indemnified by the cloud provider. In this sense, the enterprise has done nothing more than transfer the management of their risks to a third party.
True risk transference can be achieved, but it means that SLAs provide both service fee refunds and business loss indemnification. During a service outage, an enterprise's risk is not the fee they are paying for the service but instead the impact on current and future profits. There must be stipulations in the SLAs to address these losses for risk transfer to have taken place.
The differences between transferring risk and risk management may seem obvious, but it does serve to underscore the importance of SLAs in the cloud computing world. Enterprises need to fully understand these SLAs in order to accurately assess the benefits of using a cloud proider. SLAs are poised to be critical in the cloud computing world, and I'm interested to see how they will help shape the competitive landscape of the industry.