Article: How to Leverage Cloud Computing for Maximum Value
We have been engaged by a handful of clients to establish roadmaps for the thoughtful adaptation of cloud technologies to improve their businesses in a variety of ways. It seems that these clients with “cloud on the mind” had been lured by the vast promises associated with cloud computing – cost savings, efficiency, ubiquitous accessibility, etc. So we set out to explore the many avenues for supplanting existing technologies with cloud-based models and also new solutions that could potentially help these businesses in ways that had not been considered.
As with any new or emerging technology, we led our clients through stepping back to substantiate a guiding purpose or reason for the technology introduction. Through these projects we learned more about valid and practical business cases for the introduction of cloud computing models that positively contribute to broader business goals and objectives. And since we’re a firm believer that “technology for technology’s sake” is inherently bad, we’re happy that our analyses lead to the betterment of not only our clients’ technology environments, but to the betterment of their businesses overall. This article will introduce you to cloud computing and share some ways it can support four common business goals.
First though, what is cloud computing?
Cloud = the internet. Kind of. If you’re already using the internet then you’re already using the cloud. So, read no further, unless of course you’re not on the internet then continue reading for tips and tricks to discover the world wide web. Just kidding of course.
Those in the tech world have been drawing network diagrams for years oftentimes starting with the obligatory puffy cloud in the center of the drawing. The cloud represents the world of computing located outside of our internal networks; data pipes (internet or direct connectivity) link our offices to this mythical place where resources are located. Thus the term: cloud. When computing power, systems, or resources are located outside of our internal network we assign them this cloud, and diagrams also illustrate how we are connected to it. This continues to be true.
When we reference the cloud today we are usually referencing a service or software solution that is not hosted internally on a server or on a workstation but rather at a datacenter or hosting provider; users simply access an interface either through desktop software or more commonly a web browser – thus leaving all the administrative aspects of running the software to the service provider who ensures that data is safe and secure. This changes our mindset for thinking about the deployment of enterprise software; traditionally the introduction of new software tools came with a high capital expenditure for not only the software itself but also the customization of it, the hardware it lived on, and the deployment costs associated with getting it up and running. Although cloud computing does not eliminate all of these items, it certainly reduces cost and increases speed of deployment. Cloud computing brings with it several benefits:
1. Accessibility to the masses – Formerly server-based software that had a high price-point for entry is available at an affordable per user pricing model.
2. Ubiquitous access – Because solutions don’t live at your office they now live where you do, and on the web, and on your smartphone.
3. Rapid deployment – The introduction and improvement of new software can be achieved significantly faster.
4. Scalability – Depending on the model, oftentimes cloud solutions do not require you to worry about adding new users or devices, simply pay for more users or devices and the solution “magically” scales through the use of shared resources.
Salesforce.com is a mainstream cloud-based software as a service customer relationship management (“CRM”) solution used by many companies. Traditionally, if a company wanted to deploy CRM software they needed to concern themselves with the introduction of multiple servers, possibly a database platform, the deployment of software on each workstation, and on and on. With Salesforce.com a company need only subscribe to the service and begin using the solution using a web interface. This leaves more room in many company budgets to worry less about the nuts and bolts needed to deploy a solution while focusing more on the adaptation and customization of the software to their specific needs – thus more value is created.
You may be using some cloud-based technologies today and not even think about it. Mail providers like Gmail and Hotmail are cloud platforms because they allow you to access your email from any web browser. Other examples include Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Skype, Google Voice, YouTube, Mint, etc.
Here are a few ways that cloud computing can help your company achieve some common business objectives.
Reduce Cost – One of the most common reasons our clients approach us about cloud technologies is to reduce cost, or to achieve more with less. Sometimes it is possible for a company to reduce their server footprint or the amount of servers required to run their business. To do this, they usually directly replace a current client/server software with a cloud-based solution and decommission the legacy server environment. For example, a business may use a traditional server-based accounting system and replace it with a hosted cloud-based solution. The company then decommissions the servers running their old system and achieves cost reduction through energy savings, eliminated need for continual refresh of the server environment, reduction of staff needed to support the servers, reduction of stress on the company’s data protection/backup solution, etc.
Introduce New Functionality & Efficiency – Similar to cost reduction initiatives, many companies can now introduce technology solutions that were at one time cost prohibitive. For example, many companies can simply not afford to deploy a traditional CRM solution but can easily afford a monthly subscription to a cloud-based CRM package. This allows the company an enterprise-class solution at an affordable cost of entry. Additionally, cloud computing models allow for the rapid introduction of new technology with easy introduction of new features; think about how Facebook rapidly changes the way you interact with their platform – they can do this because it is relatively easy to introduce new features and capabilities that enrich (or frustrate) your user experience.
Improve Accessibility – More and more organizations are demanding that their software tools work where they do – in the office, at home, and on the road. Cloud-based software delivery makes this much easier. Depending on the solution, many of which are web-based, a user can access systems anywhere they have internet connectivity. Many cloud-based solutions are app enabled for smartphones including iPhone and Android as well as tablet operating systems too.
Be More Disaster Resistant – Many cloud-based backups providers are rapidly replacing on-premises tape or hard drive backup solutions. The benefit to this arrangement is that backup data is inherently stored offsite and transported in an automated manner to a datacenter that can be many miles away; thus creating more disaster resistance. Some robust cloud-based backups also incorporate a cloud-based recovery model using virtualization technologies. These solutions store a “cloned” version of your server environment at a datacenter that is available on-demand in the event a disaster occurs in the production environment. Furthermore, intrinsic qualities associated with business-class cloud computing architecture ensure your data is oftentimes safer than on locally configured server environments.
But is cloud computing all sunshine and lollipops?
The short answer is no. There are a couple major points to be made about the negatives associated with cloud computing. First, the traditional cost vs. control continuum. Generally speaking, as with most things in life, the less something costs, the less control you have over that thing (whatever it may be). Conversely, the opposite is true. This principle applies to cloud computing too. Because oftentimes you’re sharing resources with many other users and companies you are forced to adapt to common characteristics associated with the solution you’re using. This can limit your ability to customize a solution to your exact needs, workflows, processes, etc. However, with many cloud-based software solutions there is a good deal of customization possibilities, sometimes rivaling traditional client/server applications. Much of this depends on the extent to which your cloud architecture utilizes shared resources – some “private” cloud computing models, or hosted solutions, are more robust and developed specifically for an individual customer or business.
Secondly, through the use of cloud technologies, storage of your confidential information will reside in the cloud (a datacenter, hosting provider, or other third party) instead of on your local network. That is why it’s important to consider the safeguarding and securitization of your data and transport methods. Partner only with qualified hosting or cloud-based solutions providers, understand what other types of companies are using the solution and what technologies are used to ensure your data’s security. Make sure that your contract with the solutions provider balances responsibility and clearly spells out steps taken to ensure the confidentiality of your data; seek professional assistance to review the contract if you feel uncomfortable or don’t understand aspects of the agreement.