In my post, "Like it or not, it's time to get a cloud strategy," which was really just a call to action, I spoke to how organizations need to stop making the same old excuses, or stop believing the falsehoods, as to why the cloud isn't an plausible approach to computing, and start to adopt a cloud strategy. In order to remain competitive, principally speaking, an organization needs to constantly devise ways to reduce cost and increase its ability to scale and develop with the business -- not against it. And as IT service providers (once purely hardware/software manufacturers) continually look to a more profitable cloud-centric business model, the only way for most enterprises to achieve the same is to, at minimum, adopt a hybrid infrastructure, or to start to utilize or develop applications by way of SaaS and/or PaaS type schemas. By failing to do so, or even by waiting too long to act, your competitors will have a distinct advantage in respect to their ability to provide quality products/services, as well as to manage risk or IT related contingencies, which will cost you far more than just dollars and cents. Depending on if you are an IT professional or have a large stake in an organization, it could cost you your livelihood or business!
What the cloud can deliver
So just how does the cloud deliver a better alternative to your strictly on-premise environment? Probably most obviously, it can afford an IT staff with the ability to scale computing resources with greater ease, execution, and control. The administrative headaches are greatly reduced, as with data redundancy or disaster recovery type tasks, as this is something that is often relegated to cloud providers themselves. For executives, this can prove to consolidate overhead and present an organization with a greater pool of talent, as the knowledge required to administrate cloud-based services/software is supported by a large community of administrators, developers, ISVs, resellers and the like. Probably just as obvious, the more that is moved to the cloud, the less hardware, software, bandwidth and power an organization needs to buy. Furthermore, as most cloud providers pricing structures are on a subscription or pay-as-you go basis, most upfront costs are eliminated. With more and more cloud providers surfacing onto the market, these distributed costs will continually decrease as competition increases exponentially.
In terms of dependability, the cloud often gets an unwarranted amount of attention - especially negative attention. However, this is often a case of misdirection, and really just echoes problems that have always existed since the dawn of the multitenant architecture. More pointedly, this can be narrowed down to data redundancy and recovery; something cloud services like Windows Azure and Google Cloud Computing actually do bundle in their offerings. However, it has never been good policy to rely on one vendor to ensure data is backed up and can be recovered, whether it is an "eventual" kind of recovery effort, or something more mission critical that can require 99.99% uptime. For organizations that flat-out refuse to enter into the cloud, even a hybrid approach might be merited, where backup and recovery is managed in house, or perhaps vice versa (use cloud as point of redundancy). For those looking to fully vest themselves into cloud computing, regardless of the provider type (IaaS/PaaS/Saas), there are a multitude of third-party capable vendors to engage with.
Probably even more reproached and scrutinized than cloud dependability is its security measures. However, this aversion is more than likely to come from executives, as most IT professionals understand that firewalls are a matter of networking, and not so much where data exists. And just like any PC can be breached or infected, so too can the cloud. Therefore, security in the cloud holds the very same capacity to be no less secure than on-premise data centers, and is solely a matter left to security personnel. Deliberately put, security is a means to apply cryptographic methods and control incoming and outgoing network traffic.
Realizing the benefits
The underlying goal of most cloud computing efforts is to increase CPU utilization through resource pooling, consolidate applications, and/or eliminate unnecessary IT administrative tasks. Some other direct benefits that I haven't discussed that an organization can achieve by simply adopting even a partial cloud strategy are as follows:
- Deploy projects faster
- Greater access to distributed (CPU) power as applications now use virtual memory
- Lower cost of hardware maintenance and third-party hardware support services
- No longer does IT personnel need to worry about keeping software/hardware up-to-date
- Allows IT to shift focus toward becoming more innovative by developing applications and managing critical business information
- Access to the latest technology; no more legacy systems
- Increased IT support responsiveness and efficiency
- Less glitches/bugs, as application serviced through cloud computing require fewer versions
- Increased mobility as employees can access data from multiple devices through single-point in the cloud
- Lower cost to administer mobile devices
- Ability to improve cash flow, and decrease capital expenditures and operational overhead, primarily through subscription/pay-as-you-go/incremental pricing models
Ian is a manager of business intelligence/analytics for a small cap NYSE traded energy company. He also freelance writes about business and technology, as well as consults SMBs upon Internet marketing strategy.