First came the cloud evangelists: cloud can do everything, solve every problem. Then came the cloud sceptics: cloud is not a panacea, and will only have a minimal impact. We are now accepting that cloud sits, quite comfortably, in-between these two extremes.
Cloud can cut costs and enable businesses to grow without major restructuring of their IT infrastructure, but it’s important to understand that it’s not the solution to every problem, and neither is it a passing fad to be dismissed. It’s crucial to get past the hype.
Cloud is about control. This may seem a little odd, because one of the biggest reasons SMEs and mid-market organisations resist moving to the cloud is a reluctance to move data away from the business, to being held in a separate data centre. ‘How can you increase control of something if it exists somewhere else?’ they ask.
In fact, having business critical information stored in a secure facility means that organisations not only have access to robust platforms with which to host it, but also the additional security, compliance and management skills of a trusted managed hosting partner.
‘Managed Service’ is a core phrase for those investigating cloud. This means the cloud provider is responsible for the care, wellbeing and security of the data, but the organisation has full control of how it is used. Managed service partners are a step above cloud platforms offering infrastructure only, such as Amazon EC2 or Microsoft Azure. They provide ‘always on’ support and advice on whatever cloud service is being used – be it merely the physical machines – infrastructure (IaaS), applications or software (SaaS) or a mixture of the two, application platforms running on dedicated servers (PaaS).
Managed service partners can also show businesses, exactly, where their data is being held. They encourage business owners to tour the data centre. In this way organisations can ensure their data is where it needs to be, which is refreshing for those concerned about compliance, for example. Larger players tend to have immense data centre estates all over the globe and information can be in any of them, sometimes even dispersed across a few.
Managed partners also offer stringent service levels to support the services and have a proven track record of success. In addition, they are willing to offer trials of the service to ensure it is fit for purpose, and works as the organisation intends.
The current terminology for cloud doesn’t help either – the term ‘public cloud’ could panic anyone who wants to keep data safe and secure; ‘virtual machine’ is similarly confusing – does it really exist? Data separation, security and encryption techniques used in the cloud today ensure that all data is segregated and secure. The development of the market also means that the services and skills of those in charge of maintaining it are constantly updated.
However, it is the cloud’s ability to create redundancy and offer additional resiliency that enables it to offer businesses the most control. The pooling of resources and automation means that cloud hosting can withstand much greater peak loads as it can be flexible enough to cope with massive spikes in demand. The self-service capability of cloud hosting means that a new virtual machine can be online in a few hours rather than waiting a few weeks for new equipment – so businesses can avoid purchasing infrastructure that will be unused most of the time.
Other tasks can be accessed far more easily. New user accounts can be added instantly and access levels tailored easily, without going through a helpdesk. This leaves the IT team, freed from the more mundane tasks, to support the core function of the business and invest their time in innovative uses of technology that can help gain competitive advantage.
Ultimately most of the control is a result of flexibility that cloud allows. The additional availability and ability to scale means that businesses face less upfront infrastructure costs while ensuring that all the resources they have invested in are fully utilised. Scaling not only helps with peaks in demand but also facilitates future growth.
The cloud has changed the way we view IT, and looking past the hype to fully consider the control it offers organisations shows its potential. However, it is vital to be confident on what is happening to your information, where it is and how it is being managed.