There’s growing awareness that cloud thinking makes commercial common sense. Which is why, according to Forbes, it is estimated that 83% of businesses worldwide will utilise cloud computing technology in some way by the end of this year. A prediction that looks set to see the value of the Cloud market to reach an estimated global valuation of $150Billion (1).
Alongside the internet, cloud computing has revolutionised the way we work, making global connectivity, integration and digital workplaces an everyday reality.
What is cloud?
This is something that all business managers need to understand, not just Chief Technology Officers and heads of IT teams.
Cloud computing relies on data centres that can be accessed via the internet, and there are various forms. The main categories are Public Cloud servers (universally accessible) and Enterprise/Private Cloud servers which are controlled by a single entity. For multiple reasons, larger clouds use central servers but also spread some functions across several locations.
In a nutshell, cloud takes data and operational systems away from your hard drive, and places them within a truly awe-inspiring super-computer! One you can access from any location globally, at any moment in time.
You pay a service provider for the use of a cloud platform of course, but the cost is likely to be substantially less than investing in new technology or developing your own cloud based platform. Making the economies of scale profound, as are the ways to use cloud computing to simplify and rationalise the way you work as a business.
So, why hesitate?
Migrating your data and operational systems to the Cloud offers substantial and far-reaching advantages that are far too good to ignore. Not least the chance to save money and avoid the disastrous consequences of an all-too-common data breach. Although it’s not always as cut and dried as it appears, and before jumping straight into a mass scale migration, businesses need to focus on a cloud first objective which underpins the businesses migration, growth and development.
What is a cloud first strategy?
Before you rush to overturn your entire technology infrastructure and migrate everything to the Cloud, knowing what cloud first means is important.
Though cloud adoption brings massive benefits, a cloud-only strategy could be too disruptive. Your organisation and its daily workings may still benefit from some degree of reliance on your technology infrastructure – device hardware or software that serves an important and irreplaceable purpose.
Instead, a cloud first strategy is highly recommended. But what is a cloud first strategy? This is where digital transformation and future business developments look at a cloud-based solution first and foremost.
The merits of keeping some processes ‘in-house’ can then be evaluated, if the Cloud route presents issues.
Main advantages of making the move to cloud computing
We have touched on some of the benefits of a cloud first strategy, but this warrants further exploration. As it can offer important insights for companies who are currently ‘dipping their toes’ in this crucial digital development.
One of the main reasons why many companies adopt cloud solutions is to free up resources in-house, as you will spend far less on your technology infrastructure. It also saves time, not least from updating software or policing connectivity and integration. By its very nature, it levels and smooths out your data operations.
For companies that embrace remote working or have a reliance on global project teams or even subcontractors, cloud computing is a massive step forward. Enabling and supporting the sharing of data and applications – meaning collaboration becomes much more intuitive.
In essence your ability to be an agile, responsive and scalable business becomes greater if your processes are cloud-based.
Then there are the security implications of the Cloud. For the most part, sending your data to be encrypted and stored on an external server meets many of your data management and privacy obligations, and provides crucial cyber-crime protection. Furthermore backing up data becomes effortless, as it all syncs instantly to Cloud storage.
Planning, planning, planning: Avoiding common pitfalls in cloud migration
When you’re ready to introduce an authentic cloud first strategy – as a digital transformation or to advance existing cloud adoption – proper planning is vital. The advantages are clear, but the path to cloud computing can be complex, depending on your organisation and its goals. Of key consideration must be:
1. Security: As your data and business systems will be sitting on an external server, this needs to be managed professionally. This includes updates, server maintenance and a huge commitment to ‘safety’. Check the credentials of a cloud service provider carefully, particularly how they approach security.
On a similar note, security and efficiency also depend on your company’s ability to keep cloud computing ‘clean’. You need to avoid sprawl or a shadow IT environment, when new data, files or software find their way outside the Cloud and on to devices. The risk of damaging data breaches grows, if cloud management is ‘lax’.
2. Cost and Resource efficiencies: Security is clearly a driving force in cloud first strategies, but so is cost reduction and improved efficiency. (The latter point about a shadow IT environments can put up roadblocks to this.)
Some of the commercial advantages of cloud computing can be lost if you tie yourself into a complex or costly contract with a cloud service provider who charge egress costs. Additionally, the ‘hidden costs of Cloud’ can trip up smaller businesses when they commit to paying for a level of service far beyond what they need.
To avoid this ensure you map out your technological landscape carefully, including business growth plans, to make sure your cloud adoption is at a level that’s relevant.
3. Performance: As free and paid-for cloud service providers are so diverse, and rely on different architectures, their offering varies widely too. The best cloud solution for your business could be one neither situated in the region nearest to you or branded with a well-known name!
Test and evaluate cloud options thoroughly to find the best fit. Also, remember the advice around going ‘cloud only’. It’s important to have a plan B in place to keep your business running if your cloud provider does go offline or throws some other spanner in the works!
4. Data Governance: Operating with cloud computing in a measured, controlled way, does offer you advanced data management. Choosing the right cloud service provider is a transparent solution to compliance with both UK and international data management laws.
However, you can’t get complacent. One important consideration is making sure that data migrates to the cloud efficiently and doesn’t sit in silos somewhere else in your business operations. Nor should you allow cloud access indiscriminately. That includes staff downloading and using personal information in an unauthorised manner.
5. Cloud lock-in: Another pitfall of cloud computing is entering into a service agreement that becomes a golden handcuff. If you decide to change your cloud service provider, the last thing you need is to find that the resources and semantics are incompatible. It’s wise to develop an exit strategy before entering a cloud contract, to be sure of future changes to provision.
6. Internet reliance: This may seem a moot point in the age of far-reaching wifi and the Internet of Things (IOT), however you need to be conscious that cloud computing places your business firmly in the ‘hands’ of a strong, reliable internet connection. Strong connectivity means better cloud access. The best cloud service providers will help you to formulate your connectivity requirements (and business continuity planning in the event of connectivity issues being experienced).
7. Training requirements: Migrating any form of infrastructure to the Cloud will be a culture change for the IT department – bringing with it a very different way of working. Teams will now need to be multi-skilled at working across different applications and networks. Staff who are untrained can unintentionally leave ‘things open’ leading to security compromises, data breaches, resulting in damage to both business and reputation. Staff training is therefore a key consideration factor in any migration.
Making the Cloud a firm business decision
Many of the pitfalls of migrating to the Cloud hinge on finding the right hosted service provider for your business. One that offers you the ease, flexibility and cost savings that cloud provides. With all the back-up, recovery and business growth potential that comes as standard. They also need to be a provider with the potential to be a seamless extension of your own internal team, with the features, functions and fees that match your specific goals.