The cloud three years on

The cloud three years on

Five tips for success

Last year was a break-out one for cloud computing, with a great deal of attention paid to it benefits as many new providers came to market and many more businesses pursued it as a realistic option.

2010 has offered more of the same, with most interest focused on two key areas: Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Of these, SaaS has traditionally been the most popular, with web-based software services – including sales and CRM applications – a natural fit for the cloud model.

But while SaaS has lead the market, it’s now giving way to the enormous growth of IaaS – the delivery of traditional IT infrastructure over a private data network, with associated benefits for productivity, efficiency and cost.

But be it SaaS or IaaS, many implementation lessons have been learned. Here are five key tips for CIOs looking to successfully deploy cloud systems within their organisation.

1. Remember that the cloud is not a commodity

Some providers – especially the big telco’s – like to encourage the idea of the cloud as a ‘set and forget’ IT service, but conceptions of the cloud as a commodity are wrong. The cloud is not worry-free computing. The need to manage your IT environment doesn’t stop, nor does the need to constantly examine your IT strategy.

Organisations who move to the cloud find that they still need specialist IT help, especially systems integration, migration and management expertise. It’s important not to be tricked into buying a cloud ‘service’ that isn’t a service.

2. Ask how the cloud will change the way you operate

Before introducing cloud computing to your business, you need to understand how the change in paradigm will affect your operations. Foremost, remember that you will be separating your users from your data and you could be placing a bottleneck between them (in the form of low speed data connection).

This need not be a concern, however, as long as you’ve examined your bandwidth requirements. Web-based applications are usually efficient by design, but if you use more data intensive client-server systems it’s important to evaluate whether other technologies – such as thin-client systems, WAN accelerators or terminal services – are needed to beat the bandwidth constraint.

In 99 per cent of cases, such problems can be overcome, but it’s important that a move to the cloud system doesn’t deliver your end-users a performance hit.

3. Consider your licensing, compliance and contract-exit needs

Many businesses are surprised to find that the ‘perpetual’ software licenses they already own are not portable and cannot be transferred to the cloud. Instead, the big software providers – including Microsoft – supply licenses via Services Provider License Agreements (SPLAs). The value of SPLAs is their flexibility. They are vital to the cloud’s ability to scale on-demand. The upshot is that often the most cost-effective and efficient time to switch to the cloud is whenever your business would normally be engaging in an upgrade or refresh.

Understanding your compliance requirements is also important. Firstly, when it comes to adhering to PCI or ISO standards around information security, the basic equation is the more rigorous your requirements, the more you’ll pay. Secondly, the more security standards you follow, the less flexible your cloud infrastructure will inevitably be. Successful cloud implementations are based on solid understandings of compliance needs, especially around agreements already held with customers.

Also ensure that your rights are protected in any contract you sign with a cloud provider. There are a lot of new providers in the market, and not all will stay the course. What would happen to your data or intellectual property in the event that your provider collapsed, or was on-sold? What guarantees you access to your data in the event that you terminate a contract early?

4. Choose your provider carefully

Cloud services – especially IaaS – remain relatively new. While some providers have years of experience delivering them, many do not.

For IT providers, delivering cloud services is both technically and financially demanding. For this reason, it’s important to choose a partner who has a track record and the necessary financial clout. Ideally, look for mature products, good customer references and proven experience. Try to avoid offerings that provide scope for mixed or unclear levels of accountability – such as where an ISP provides data centre and network components, leaving an integrator to deliver professional and IT services.

5. Choose a well-sized provider

When you’re going to place all or part of your IT services into the hands of a cloud provider, it’s important that your business matter to them. Ensuring that both businesses are well aligned when it comes to size matters in terms of the amount of attention you’re likely to receive.

So if you’re a small business, don’t become a small customer of a big provider. Similarly, if you’re of enterprise size, you need a provider big enough to support your needs.

In a perfect world you’d be one of the bigger customers of the provider you choose to deal with. If this isn’t possible, make sure that you’re at least dealing with a provider who understands and values your business and its needs.

Dave Stevens is Managing Director of Brennan.

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