More and more IT systems traditionally run by a business onsite will be heading towards the cloud (in other words hosted by a cloud service provider on servers in a data centre). IT infrastructure is the backbone of every company and managers need to have a handle on this aspect of the business as much as any other.
The cloud enables employees to operate faster, collaborate better and gain access to systems from anywhere with an internet connection.
Firms with effective IT systems are more agile and competitive – and the cloud can facilitate this by giving you the resources you need immediately. As a result, time-to-market and responsiveness are vastly improved; if you want to implement a new digital marketing campaign or a short-term computing facility to analyse your customer data, you can get going straight away.
However, the number one precursor for the cloud is an effective internet connection. If you are going to put key applications into the cloud, you need to have reliable access to your hosted servers.
When to move
Many firms leave it too late to refresh IT systems, suddenly finding that the hardware, software and phone system they’re using are no longer up to the job.
Similarly, as a company grows, the server room might become too small to accommodate additional hardware or a business might find that the guarantees and maintenance agreements on servers are due to expire. This is the ideal time to consider the cloud, which can take care of all these issues.
Rather than facing a hefty bill for new IT infrastructure which needs paying up front, the cloud enables you to put it down as monthly running cost. Furthermore, technical support of your systems in the cloud should come as part of the package, meaning you can dedicate less time managing your IT.
A business undergoing rapid expansion can also benefit significantly from cloud computing. If you are adding local servers at multiple new sites, an easier option would be to have a cloud infrastructure that can be managed centrally, saving IT managers hours travelling between sites, especially when upgrades are needed.
Of course, with improved technology should come improved performance. The cloud enables employees to operate faster, collaborate better and gain access to systems from anywhere with an internet connection.
It also offers on-demand computing capacity. For example, businesses that operate on a seasonal basis, with a large proportion of sales at Christmas, can scale up computing resources as and when they are needed. Rather than servers lying dormant for a large part of the year, you can buy in the extra capacity on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Which applications are best in the cloud?
Research by the Cloud Industry Forum* has shown the most popular applications to transfer to the cloud are email, backup/Disaster Recovery and data storage. These are all great ways to test the waters with cloud technology.
Cloud email providers will deal with all the software licensing issues and should offer securely hosted, high performance email which is always available no matter what disaster or technical problem strikes the office.
Online backup and DR was one of the first true cloud services, giving business the chance to securely backup data offsite. Nowadays, disaster recovery of IT systems - originally only affordable by enterprise - is accessible to businesses of all sizes.
Storage is another area where using the cloud can incur significant savings especially for archiving. The likes of Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure offer cut price data storage on public cloud platforms.
What’s the catch?
If the cloud is so great, why are some IT managers still hesitant?
Compatibility with cloud technology can be a particular problem for larger firms with legacy mainframe systems. In this incidence, an option is to keep the main infrastructure onsite but to adopt a hybrid strategy introducing cloud services where favourable.
Finally, choosing a reputable Cloud Service Provider is essential. Look out for valid certifications and check the Service Level Agreement is in line with potential growth and business objectives. Furthermore, make sure you know where your infrastructure is being hosted and the data centre is recognised for having the highest security standards.
Oscar Arean is Technical Operations Manager at Databarracks, which provides secure cloud infrastructure, backup and disaster recovery services from UK based, ex-military data centres.
*Cloud Industry Forum October 2011