The term ‘cloud computing’ has certainly gained much hype in the past few years due to the benefits it can present to businesses. The cloud represents a shift in traditional IT models, and one that provides great cost savings – essentially evening up the competitive playing field due to the ‘Pay for What You Use’ pricing model.
The cloud has entered the business as well as personal domain in more ways than you may have realised. If you utilise services such as Gmail or Drive, Dropbox, Facebook or internet banking apps you are utilising cloud technologies. Yes, the cloud has entered our lives – and it’s time for SMBs to leverage the benefits.
Operating certain applications or the entire IT function on a cloud model allows businesses to take advantage of a ‘lean’ business strategy. Saving costs and realising the efficiencies the cloud has on a business and IT model.
So what does this term, ‘cloud’ actually mean?
The NIST defines cloud computing as a model for enabling “… convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort of service provider interaction.” (reference nist.gov)
Most definitions talk about the cloud as a technology. However, it is much more than that. The cloud represents a significant shift in the business and economic models for provisioning and consuming IT which can lead to cost savings, as well as a host of other benefits.
The benefits: Why would (or should) I use the cloud?
The most cited reason for moving to the cloud is the economic benefits it can bring to a business i.e. reduced IT expenditure. This of course is a big factor for businesses, especially SMBs who need to take advantage of the cost savings of the cloud. But this is not the only factor.
IT infrastructure growth through time
Shows how regardless of how accurate the planning, the actual usage of your infrastructure is never efficient. Borrowed from: Amazon
The cloud can also scale resources quickly and efficiently when needed (and in a much more cost effective manner). At peak periods, resources can be commissioned on demand allowing you to manage the peaks and troughs of demand on your website or application. No crashing!
Other benefits include:
- Increased speed to market for applications, helping foster innovation
- Reduced maintenance costs
- Increased productivity
- Resilience and redundancy
Where do I start?
Well that is dependent on many unique factors, including your current architecture, business needs now and in the future, scalability requirements, and objectives for moving to the cloud in the first place.
There are so many decisions when moving into the cloud such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and public vs. private vs. hybrid clouds (we’ll touch on these debates in later blogs).
In order to test the waters, many businesses will start to deploy applications in the cloud. Certain applications are easy to move into cloud environments and make sense to do so. You should focus on the lowest risk application first, and the ones which contain minimal sensitive data. You should also look for applications which are not a point of difference against competitors – these are prime candidates for the cloud. As are those which have significant interaction with external applications or services.
- Email: this is a low risk application to move into a cloud environment. Email architecture is now quite standardised and as such there is no real value in keeping it inside your firewall.
- Web Hosting: can cheaply and easily scale to match demands in traffic. Can also improve performance and latency.
- Conferencing software: video conferences are accessible to anyone, anywhere. Whether sitting at an office desk, a meeting room, working from home or even using mobile devices, cloud videoconferencing offers a high quality service, reliability and interoperability.
- Application and software development & testing: Cloud-based collaborative document sharing, source code management and version control make it easier to concentrate on actually developing applications with minimal hassle and setup effort.
- CRM: this could be more difficult as it contains sensitive customer data. However, the benefits of moving this application could outweigh the risks.
What are the concerns?
Security & privacy: this is a real concern for every business, and needs to be assessed before you make any jump into the cloud. Every cloud or application provider should feature their security and privacy information – if they don’t you probably wouldn’t want to take the risk. You need to assess the security and privacy issues in relation to your requirements, and best practice principles.
Onshore sensitive data regulations: this differs between regions, different types of data as well as what industry you are operating in. But you don’t want to move sensitive data overseas only to find out regulations stipulate that data must be kept onshore. Types of data that you may need to remain onshore include customer data and transactional data. But it’s best to check what exactly applies to you when evaluating your options.
Set your sights to the clouds. Just make sure whichever platform, application or cloud provider you decide to utilise aligns with your business requirements today, tomorrow and well into the future.