Home: Issue 2 2012 Cover Story › Head in the clouds?

Head in the clouds?

Head in the clouds?

01/05/2012 | Channel: Technology, E-Business / IT, Business

Cutting through the cloud hype. By Neil Cross

The hype surrounding cloud computing is continuing unabated and many organisations are now considering a move from in-house managed IT systems to a cloud-based model for the delivery of information, data and applications ‘as a service’ over the internet. However, are organisations just getting carried away by the hype? This article will discuss the benefits of moving across to the cloud and the key factors organisations should consider before moving to a cloud computing model to ensure the best chance of success.

The cloud hype
The hype surrounding cloud computing is expected to reach unprecedented levels over the next few years. According to recent research by analyst Gartner, CIOs viewed the cloud as their top technology priority for 2011 and it expects the number of organisations using on-demand computing to rise to 43 per cent within four years. Research by Forrester supports Gartner’s predications. In a survey of 2803 global IT decision makers, 49 per cent of North American companies and 45 per cent of European companies report that pursuing a strategy of embracing cloud infrastructure services is a high or critical priority in the short term. So what is all the fuss about?

The benefits of the cloud
The economic benefits of cloud computing are well documented. The in-house management of hardware and software requires a dedicated team of IT specialists that manage, configure and continually maintain the organisation’s applications, such as email, finance, HR and CRM. This requires (sometimes considerable) ongoing investment and means that the business is likely to be spending far too much time focusing on non-essential services instead of adding strategic value to the business.

Cloud computing removes many of the overheads typical of in-house IT management. Operated as a commodity, cloud computing is accessed ‘on demand’ and so the need for an onsite IT infrastructure is removed and the IT team is able to focus on adding real business value and supporting business specific IP. By utilising the cloud, organisations pay only for the IT they need which can prove a very economical option.

As the cloud provider handles the ongoing management and maintenance of IT systems and software, organisations no longer need to worry about IT, enabling them to focus on their core business activities. Cloud applications can also be accessed from anywhere and at anytime (and not just from the workplace), supporting flexible working and enabling improved productivity.

In addition, moving to a cloud computing model provides organisations with instant access to a pool of IT specialists that are on hand to respond to organisations’ evolving needs and to provide quality advice and services. The ‘on demand’ nature of the cloud also means that an organisation can be up and running on a cloud platform very quickly. In fact, cloud applications can be live within a matter of hours or days and thanks to the flexibility of the cloud, an organisation’s changing needs can be quickly and easily catered for should the company grow or shrink suddenly.
Therefore, the benefits of the cloud are alluring. However not all organisations are in the position to embrace cloud computing and some lack a clear cloud strategy. Organisations should therefore consider the following key factors before seeking to introduce cloud computing as part of their IT strategy.

Look beyond the IT drivers
IT is about delivering improved business and public services. It is not just about ensuring the smooth running of technology. Any changes made to IT infrastructure need to be suited to the needs of the organisation first rather than being modified to fit the IT department’s preferred technology platform. Therefore, make sure that you fully understand what you want to achieve as an organisation and why. Organisations must also establish if they have the necessary resources to manage IT internally or whether IT outsourcing is a more viable option.

Choose a reputable provider
Cloud computing is not necessarily a bigger risk than in-house IT, just a different risk. By moving into the cloud, organisations are sharing their IT management burden  with another provider, which is why choosing the right provider is paramount. Choosing a reputable cloud provider that is willing to share details of its uptime and performance records to alleviate the organisation’s fears is critical to the success of the project.

Careful planning is essential
Just because the cloud is quick and easy to deploy, this doesn’t mean that the decision to move to the cloud should be hurried. Like any other major IT project, it is essential that it is planned thoroughly.

In particular, it is important to think carefully about who is going to manage the project, the potential risks of migration, how to maintain business continuity and ensure that testing is scheduled outside of business hours to minimise any disruption resulting from downtime.

Which cloud computing option is best?
There are two main cloud options available – public or private. A public cloud is shared amongst a number of organisations. A public cloud platform is perfectly suitable for all types of organisation unless the organisation’s software system is bespoke and delivers a competitive advantage. This is when a private cloud should be considered.

Of course, a ‘pick and mix’ hybrid cloud approach to IT systems is also perfectly acceptable and is fast becoming the norm. An organisation may choose to host some of its IT applications in the cloud whilst internally managing others. Ultimately, whether a public or private cloud is most appropriate for the organisation should be discussed with the cloud provider.

Ensure the service level agreement is appropriate
Before any IT outsourcing project is commenced, it is vital that tight service level agreements (SLAs) are agreed with the service provider in writing. Agreeing strict contractual terms will rubber stamp expectations around availability, downtime and maintenance as well as the penalties that would apply if these levels are not met.

Think about the risks
The reality is that IT hosted on the cloud is arguably more secure than an internally-managed IT system as the cloud provider’s data centre is likely to be equipped with a very high level of security with robust back-up processes and systems in place. Organisations on the cloud will also automatically receive the very latest software upgrades.

Having said this, organisations also need to consider carefully the potential risks. Is the data going to be held safely and securely on the cloud? It is important to make sure that it is clear where the organisation’s data is going to be physically stored and what security measures are in place to safeguard this data.

Cloud computing is now an accepted IT delivery method which will continue to be adopted by organisations, both big and small. However, despite the many advantages to be gained by embracing cloud applications, the cloud does not represent a magic wand for organisations looking to solve existing business or IT issues. It is important for businesses to consider the move to the cloud very carefully and ensure that it is well placed to fully benefit from all that cloud computing has to offer.

Neil Cross is managing director of Advanced 365. For 26 years, Neil Cross was an integral figure within the successful IBM midrange solutions house, Chorus, in which he was heavily involved with both IBM and Microsoft. Neil was Chorus’ technical architect for many years before taking on the role of managing director in 1999. Following Chorus’s acquisition by Computer Software Group plc in 2003, Neil continued to work as a key member of the management team. In 2009, Neil became managing director of leading managed services and cloud computing provider, Advanced 365, formerly Business Systems Group. Neil is now helping to shape Advanced 365’s exciting future as part of the rapidly expanding Advanced Computer Software Group, headed-up by respected CEO Vin Murria.

Advanced 365
Advanced 365 designs, deploys, operates and improves IT services from the desktop to the data centre, helping customers to align their IT to their core business requirements. Advanced 365 provides application development, delivering a fully-supported application managed service. It also offers IT delivery as a hosted service managed via the Advanced 365 data centre suite; remotely from customers’ comms rooms; as part of a cloud-based service; or as a hybrid solution. For further information, visit: