Everyone is talking about cloud, cloud, cloud!! But why? What’s so great about the cloud? What does it even mean to move to the cloud? Is this just another fad that will eventually go away; in the not-so-distant future will we all just be scrambling to move off the cloud?
First let’s clear up some confusion. The “cloud” is simply IT resources available via the internet that provide elasticity and redundancy, meaning they can scale up and down, and they can remain operational even if one or more of the components fail. Why is that good? Well for obvious reasons, by scaling up and down, you are only using and paying for the services you need at the time. This can translate to savings, if implemented correctly. Redundancy can help prevent hardware based outages, which can save time and money as well.
In terms of “moving to the cloud”, it really just means moving your business applications and services to a cloud provider. Either you can switch to a cloud based service, like Salesforce or box, or you can virtualize your existing systems and move them to a cloud based infrastructure or hardware provider, like Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft’s Azure.
In regards to the trendiness of cloud computing, well, it’s here to stay for a long time. Applications being managed in the cloud and delivered to our personal devices, can be very efficient. In fact, we will continue to see more and more traditional applications transform into mobile apps, similar to the ones you install on your iPhone or Android. This will cause a continued expansion of the cloud, and will make the old model of hosting applications inside the business seem archaic.
Now that that is cleared up, you’re hopefully open to consider a move. Hosting applications and servers in the cloud can be advantageous, but before you jump too quickly, we still need to address some misconceptions. The cloud is not a solution for all of your technology challenges. You’ll need to make sure you know exactly what you’re getting when you decide to move forward; hopefully the list below explains some of the best and worst reasons to move, and will help point you in the right direction.
The best reasons for moving to the cloud
- Scalability / Elasticity: Whether you are switching to a cloud based application, or you are moving your applications to a cloud based infrastructure provider, you will almost definitely be able to scale more rapidly and cost effectively. Cloud providers are built to expand, and shrink for that matter; it’s what makes their solutions so viable. Gone are the days of over buying hardware in case you may need it. Today’s companies are purchasing what they need now, then adjusting up or down whenever they need.
- Reducing Cap-Ex Spend: Cloud based providers are almost all built on subscription based business models. This means your IT spend can shift from erratic capital expenditures, to forecastable operational costs. This helps businesses protect cash flow, and refocus Cap-Ex dollars on growth initiatives. This is extremely important for public companies, but is very valuable for private businesses as well.
- Security: Let’s face it, everyone has heard about security breaches on the cloud. But what most people don’t realize is that most of the major security breaches happen to on premise IT systems. In most cases the companies providing cloud services are more secure than traditional IT departments. And moving your applications to a provider that actually focuses on security will almost always be more secure than small business without the budget or personnel to properly secure their networks, servers and applications.
- Ease of upgrades: This is mostly related to cloud based applications, like salesforce, Google Apps, Active Campaign, PipeDrive, etc. A huge benefit of online applications is that you are always running the latest version. The application itself is actually running in the provider’s datacenter, and they can roll-out updates instantly without you needing to do anything. This saves a ton of time and energy.
- Cheap resources like compute and storage: There’s no doubt about it, companies that are buying petabytes of storage, and deploying and managing it for a living, can do it cheaper than you. So why not take advantage of it? Internet speeds are getting faster and faster, and there is little reason for businesses to try and build out this type of infrastructure. Use a cloud provider, just make sure you understand how your data will be kept secure, and consider having a secondary provider to back up your data.
The worst reasons for moving to the cloud
- Cost Reduction: A lot of people think Cloud = cheap. This is not really the case. Although there are a ton of cloud based applications that are very cost effective, this is only one component of IT, not an entire IT environment. When moving an entire business to the cloud, the costs can add up. Assume your IT budget will stay around the same, though the way it is allocated may be different. If you plan ahead, you can start shifting budget dollars away from management and maintenance and in to strategic initiatives. Also remember companies making more profit per employee tend to spend more per person on technology than the lower performers do.
- Ease of System Management: Again, not really true at all. A common misconception is that cloud based systems don’t need a technical resource to manage them. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Once you decide to move all of your applications to the cloud, or switch to cloud based applications, you’ll need someone to make sure everything can still talk to each other. Companies running in the cloud usually need more high level engineering expertise than companies with an on premise IT.
- Security: I know, I know, Security was also one of the best reasons. The truth is, security is a very complicated item. Just moving to the cloud doesn’t mean you have done everything you need to secure your data. For one thing, not all cloud providers are the same. Some are great at security, some are not. So you’ll need to do some research and make sure you find the right provider. Another big component is the fact that security breaches are usually caused by users, not brute force hacking. Malware, viruses, email scams and social engineering are the cause of most security incidents. If you are counting on the cloud to solve all of your problems with security, think again.
- Eliminate Outages and Failures: Of course the redundancy of the cloud is a step up for most companies. But even so, outages and system failures still happen. Access to cloud services is through the Internet, so if yours goes down, it’ll be like an outage. Additionally, cloud redundancy is normally hardware based redundancy. If there are software errors, data corruption, or user caused errors, you’ll suffer downtime. Nothing is 100%, cloud included; though it is getting closer and closer all the time. But for now, you’ll need to plan accordingly.
- Foolproof Disaster Recovery: A lot of people tend to confuse disaster recovery and backups. Just because you’ve signed up for a cloud backup, doesn’t mean you are protected from all disasters. Most “disasters” are caused by users. Deleted files, data entered incorrectly, forgetting to back up all the files you need, etc. For a complete disaster recovery solution all of these items need to be addressed.