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The Hype Has Parted – It’s Time to Make a Move While the ‘Clouds’ are Within Sight

  The problem arises when hype convinces us that something is no longer a part of the solution, but the only or entire solution – to be accepted without so much as asking a question or casting a skeptical eye.  Cloud has a lot to offer, especially to small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), and in order to see the benefits in each unique situation, we’ll need to look past the hype to get a clear view of the full picture.

Once you’ve grasped the cloud, identified specific business opportunities and discussed the benefits of moving to a cloud computing environment, the next logical step is to pinpoint areas that are immediately ready for a change or upgrade.  Let’s use storage as a straightforward example.  You can easily evaluate your storage usage through either physical disk or tape.  Perhaps your storage platform is nearing end of life, your data center power and cooling costs are escalating or you have outgrown your storage capacity and physical space – all items that are trouble for a business of any size.  Each of these issues indicates that it may be sensible to move some storage to the cloud.  The thought of moving all of your organization’s storage to the cloud may be daunting, but the cloud allows for informed selection of what you move.  Migrating less critical items to the cloud can help reduce internal requirements and avoid expensive growth of your onsite storage facility.

Once you identify a need that the cloud can solve and make the decision to move to a cloud environment, questions still remain.  Is it best to move information and processes to a public cloud or a private cloud, and how do you choose the right solution to ensure a smooth and successful move?  While that may sound like a question without an answer, there are distinct paths that can be taken.

Contrary to what some cloud providers may say, the cloud is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each SMB has different needs and expectations from the cloud and not every business is in the same financial position to make the move.  The customizability of the cloud allows each organization to adapt a solution according to its specific needs.  Additionally, if you are enticed by the flexibility and freedom cloud computing provides but worry about security breaches and data loss you can invest in your own private cloud.  Alternatively, you can apply a hybrid approach and use a combination of public and private cloud, where less sensitive information can reside in the public cloud without your CIO losing sleep.  Conversely, if you have no pause over a public cloud, there are countless options available – literally – and you can make the move for select applications.

Confusion around cloud computing continues to swirl so your best option is to seek the advice of a vendor-neutral provider who can suggest a custom solution incorporating best fit elements to address your needs.

Other areas of business are also transferable to a cloud environment, and some options may be more appealing to different organizations.  For example, a disaster recovery (DR) solution may be a great candidate to move to the cloud.  By nature a DR plan calls for access to infrastructure not utilized on normal business days which can lead to expensive investments in hardware and software remaining unused.  When DR does reside in the cloud, organizations can more carefully manage the investment associated with their DR plan by only purchasing what is absolutely essential, and migrating essential DR items to the cloud on an as-needed basis without the in-house management costs normally associated with a new purchase.

Additionally, vendors with cloud experience can help organizations plan DR environments that employ only the necessary applications and consult on which of those will function on a cloud platform.  An experienced planner can cut through the tall grass to identify what applications organizations need to keep running, rather than getting caught up in what they want to keep running when the time comes to implement the DR plan.  The end result may be a mixture of dedicated equipment, shared and virtualized infrastructure and cloud computing services.  Many times a hybrid system is the most effective.

Maybe the economy has taken a toll and you have had to reduce staff – the cloud can provide relief to overstretched IT departments.  Your business and customers rely on 24/7 service, but you lack the personnel to ensure there are no outages.  The cloud can help by providing the assurance necessary through service level agreements (SLAs) between the SMB and the provider, which guarantee an agreed upon availability and consistency for the network.  Through guaranteed service provided as part of the agreement for moving to the cloud, SMBs can achieve the level of support their large enterprise counterparts have but without the additional payroll.  It also takes one more thing off of the in-house IT department allowing for a shift in focus towards innovation over stabilization.

The move to cloud is not simply necessitated out of curiosity, but situational decisions that serve as reason to give it a closer look.  If your current infrastructure is on its last legs cloud may present a more cost-efficient option rather than building anew from scratch.  Even needs related to power and cooling issues within a data center can present an opportunity to try out cloud with shared or managed services providing an alternative to updating or replacing equipment.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the cloud is not necessarily outsourcing.  It does relieve in-house IT staff of some baseline (or infrastructure management) work and frees them up to dedicate time and effort to more business-critical missions that will improve the standing of your SMB.  In that sense, “cloud” is a fitting label – it takes some weight off of your staffs’ shoulders that keeps them stuck in the weeds, on the ground.  Smart cloud use of both private and public versions can free up productive time for high-value activities and innovation.

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