The cloud is thought of as many things, probably because it is so ubiquitous and involved in nearly every industry and technological capacity there is. Today, you can think of the cloud as a network of remote or virtual servers and other resources that an external supplier provides on a large scale. Leveraging these capabilities provides many benefits, such as scalability, fault tolerance, and a more stable and predictable IT budget.
Let’s take a look at the role of the cloud in the enterprise today, as well as what to consider to make your move to a more efficient, reliable and agile cloud setup:
The Cloud in 2017
While there are multiple “as-a-Service” type offerings available through the cloud, probably the most widely used one is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), when a software application is provided without the need to install or maintain anything locally. (SaaS apps are generally accessed through a web browser.) Companies and individuals who take advantage of SaaS apps need to manage very little on the back end, usually little more than adjusting preferences and adding or removing users.
Infrastructure- and Platform-as-a-Service (IaaS/PaaS) offerings are also very popular with organizations, allowing them to use cloud-based servers and databases for their infrastructure rather than worrying about managing and maintaining physical hardware. IaaS/PaaS still allows the company to retain complete administrative control over their systems, and they can chose to manage the OS, software, updates and more.
How Are Companies Leveraging the Cloud Today?
Today, using the cloud provides companies with many advantages, especially non-IT companies and small businesses with limited in-house IT resources. They don’t have to buy their own servers and other hardware, nor do they need to spend time and money to manage and maintain this equipment.
A vast catalog of SaaS offerings also allows organizations to avoid installing, managing and maintaining software. Here are some key SaaS services streamlining operations today:
- Email and file storage/collaboration (Office 365, Gmail/Google Drive)
- Video conferencing/webinars (GoToMeeting, Skype, WebEx)
- CRM (Dynamics 365, Salesforce, SugarCRM)
- Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems (Plex, Gravity, SAP, MS Dynamics)
- Big data and business intelligence (IBM Watson, MS Power BI, Domo, Cloudera)
- Accounting (QuickBooks Online, Intacct, Sage)
- Infrastructure and hosting (Amazon Web Services, VMWare, MS Azure)
The main message to take away here is that you should use the cloud to offload delivery of hardware as well as hardware and software management to where it can be better administrated, updated and delivered. This will allow you to take advantage of scale and integration in ways that were never before possible.
Implications of the Cloud
Obviously the cloud has a lot to offer today, but it’s not a magical cure-all for your IT woes. When looking at your move to the cloud, here are some important factors to keep in mind:
- Reliable and redundant internet connections: Cloud investment won’t do much for you if you can’t actually reach the systems. Consider the cost of the downtime caused by a bad connection compared to an extra $200 per month for a backup internet connection!
- Security: Do your research! Know your cloud provider and the certifications and audits that they provide with their services.
- Compliance: Many industries (health care, finance, etc.) have specific government regulations surrounding the data and systems used. For example, under HIPAA, health care providers should have a business associate agreement (BAA) with their partners; even if a cloud provider is not manipulating or using health care data, they are responsible for handling and storing it securely under HIPAA, so a BAA is a must!
- Capital expenses vs. operational expenses: Because of their ongoing nature, cloud services are considered operational expenses (as compared to the usual one-time capital expense of purchasing a server or software, plus the operational expenses associated with maintaining it). While the cost benefits of the cloud will usually outweigh the costs of buying and maintaining equipment yourself, it may not always, so it’s important to do your research before committing.
Quite simply, the cloud provides greater flexibility and capabilities at a lower cost than the traditional approach. If you still have hardware in your environment, it is time to explore the cloud and the advantages it can provide to your business in terms of cost, capabilities, reliability and flexibility. Start looking at what common applications in your organization could be shifted to SaaS solutions, and look into migrating your on-premises applications and infrastructure to the cloud as well!