You’ve undoubtedly heard a good deal about cloud computing, but you may feel confused as to what you really need to know. Because cloud computing has literally changed the face of IT in the last decade , we want to provide a comprehensive article centered on what you need to know about cloud computing for your business.
In this guide, we will cover three essential areas of incorporating cloud services into your organization. By doing so, you will be better suited to help your organization reap its numerous benefits.
Before you begin, here is a mini-breakdown of the 3 core sections of the article:
Part I: We show you the multitude of advantages of cloud computing for your business. We also dive into some cloud service basics that all businesses must know about.
Part II: We look at how to improve your cloud migration and cloud portability for your business.
Part III: We teach you how can leverage a hybrid cloud to gain a competitive edge in your industry.
Let’s get started!
Part I: Why Cloud Services? The Advantages of Cloud Computing for Business
The advantages cloud computing offers over internal data center expansion in terms of cost, flexibility, and scalability across the organization are clear:
- Business software users of cloud-based solutions are able to administer their own accounts and digital properties, saving valuable time and eliminating reliance on IT for these tasks.
- IT staff gains the flexibility to spend less time on maintenance and infrastructure management and more on higher value-added projects.
- Developers can add capacity quickly and easily, and with reduced need for capital investment as the cloud frees them from the need to purchase, configure, and maintain their own servers.
- By taking advantage of the economies of scale that managed hosting and cloud services providers offer, businesses can reduce costs and shift a significant portion of IT costs from capital outlays to operating expenses.
But reconfiguring an organization’s IT infrastructure to capitalize on these advantages is a complex undertaking. In most cases, not all applications or data can, or should, be moved to the cloud (at least not to the public cloud). And businesses often aren’t certain where to begin. Let’s take a look at how you should begin when preparing your business to move to the cloud.
How to Prepare Your Business for Cloud Computing
When it comes to preparing your business to move to the cloud, there are six critical steps we recommend you follow.
1. Do Your Research
Harnessing the power of cloud for business is a fundamental shift in the world of IT services, and understanding the benefits, and the risks associated with a move to the cloud, is integral to cloud adoption success.
What is cloud computing exactly?
As defined by NetworkWorld.com,”[cloud computing is] an approach to building IT services that harnesses the rapidly increasing horsepower of servers as well as virtualization technologies that combine many servers into large computing pools and divide single servers into multiple virtual machines that can be spun up and powered down at will.”
Categories of Cloud Computing
Understanding the following three categories of cloud computing will help in determining which to use in regards to your IT environment:
1. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is the most basic form of cloud offering. IaaS provides bandwidth and storage capacity in the cloud, and is a perfect solution for businesses who want access to computing power, without the cost and hassles associated with owning it.
Tech companies are often IaaS customers, and we are also seeing a migration of small to midsize businesses when it comes to the adoption of IaaS services. The ability to scale up or down quickly, and the ability to let someone else deal with hardware, installation, and ongoing maintenance and support, so that your IT team can focus on other initiatives is getting more and more attractive to smart businesses of all sizes.
2. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is one step higher on the cloud computing food chain, and is typically used as a development environment by application developers.
So, what is PaaS? It’s basically a cloud computing model that delivers applications over the Internet, and a PaaS provider delivers both hardware and software tools to users, and provides hosting on its own servers. This is attractive to app developers as it eliminates the need to install hardware or software in-house in order to run their applications.
3. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the most complete and most widely used type of cloud offering. SaaS vendors provide a complete hosted application, ready to use on an on-demand basis, and generally priced per user.
The vendor is responsible for development, maintenance, upgrades, and hosting of the application and associated data. Applications like Salesforce.com, NetSuite, and Basecamp are among the most recognized examples of SaaS cloud tech models.
Cloud computing also involves three different delivery models: public, private, and hybrid. Let’s look at each more in depth so you can better determine which is the best fit for your organization.
3 Cloud Delivery Models
Public cloud offers the highest level of efficiency and cost savings, but also the greatest security concerns. A public cloud is defined as “…one in which the services and infrastructure are provided off-site over the Internet. These clouds offer the greatest level of efficiency in shared resources.” Processing power, data storage, and bandwidth are shared among all customers in a multi-tenant model.
Private cloud hosting is at the other end of the spectrum. A private cloud is “…a cloud computing platform that is implemented within the corporate firewall, under the control of the IT department.” It provides the simplicity and management features of cloud computing with greater security and regulatory compliance than the public cloud, though with less dramatic cost savings. A private cloud may be hosted within a company’s own data center or with a colocation or managed hosting provider.
Hybrid cloud, as the name implies, is a mix of approaches, and is the most common type of implementation. A hybrid cloud may combine private and public cloud resources, or for greater security, private cloud with secure cloud delivered services.
Alternatives to this include a hybridization of a colocation environment with the addition of cloud-delivered services, providing either enhanced cybersecurity or the ability for businesses with prior IT capital investment to benefit from any of the hallmarks of cloud computing.
What’s synonymous with these approaches is flexibility. However, for companies who hold deeper concerns for security and compliance managed host providers providing a blend of private cloud and/or cloud delivered services stand out.
2. Evaluate Your Computing Environment
Conduct a thorough inventory of your applications and hardware. Not all applications lend themselves to running in a virtualized environment. In some instances, it may make sense to replace legacy applications with newer SaaS based offerings. In others, it may be more advisable (that is simpler, faster, and less costly) to maintain those legacy applications on-premises but simplify mobile access by developing modern systems of engagement atop them.
There are five key questions that every business should answer to minimize risk and maximize benefits in a cloud migration:
- How will migrating to the cloud affect our applications — and our business?
- Are we re-factoring our applications to perform in a cloud environment? If so, how?
- What are we doing to test cloud deployments differently than with traditional two-or three-tier applications and associated testing methodologies?
- How will our deployment and management strategies change with the cloud?
- Now that we’ve migrated to the cloud, do we still need to monitor things, or are we relying on a trusted vendor partner to handle that?
3. Assess Security Concerns
Public cloud infrastructure is best suited for data and applications such as marketing documents and product diagrams that don’t contain personally identifiable information or financial data.
TechTarget has reported that security is “…the top concern among companies evaluating cloud systems (because) businesses must protect confidential data,” and further noted that:
“In a (public) cloud data center, many businesses share one set of resources in a multi-tenancy arrangement. Cloud operators put up virtual barriers among systems that are not necessarily foolproof. Multi-tenancy introduces the possibility of a data breach.”
Give careful consideration to the sensitivity of data in your various systems in the process of determining which applications fit best in a public, private, or hybrid structure.
4. Assess Regulatory Concerns
This is related to but separate from the security concerns noted above. In some cases, you may have the option of moving certain data to the cloud, or not, based on your organization’s internal risk analysis and tolerance. But in others, decisions must be based on regulatory requirements.
Any company that handles personal health information (healthcare providers, insurers, or the fitness app you use on your cellphone) is subject to HIPAA regulations. And any firm (retailers, e-tailers, financial institutions, etc.) that handles credit card data must comply with PCI DSS standards. These organizations are best served by certified, compliant hosting providers that can accommodate customized colocation and hybrid cloud architectures.
5. Assess Workload Requirements
Cloud computing is well suited to situations where workloads are highly variable and irregular, alleviating the need for companies to tie up investment in servers that are idle or under-utilized much of the time.
As TechTarget notes, “Applications that reach peak resource utilization loads periodically and quickly retract, such as holiday season consumer sales or monthly payroll processing, are good candidates to migrate onto public cloud services. Rather than buy hardware that often sits idle, companies pay for the extra capacity only when it is used…Another example is application development and testing, where businesses set up and tear down workloads on a consistent basis.”
6. Talk to Your Hosting Partner
Finally, talk to people who do this sort of thing on a regular basis—especially the engineers at your managed hosting or colocation data center. Their expertise is fully planted in the cloud and all the various benefits it can provide, and they can help craft a customized mix of cloud services designed to meet your specific needs based on your applications, current technology environment, growth plans, security concerns, and applicable regulatory requirements.
As data volume grows and the role of technology expands into every area of business operations, organizations need to evaluate the cost and scalability benefits of cloud computing. But one size certainly does not fit all companies, applications, or situations.
In the next section we will look at what you need to know about how about cloud migration and portability for your business. By doing so, you will make your transition to the cloud both smoother and more effective.
Part II: How to Improve Cloud Migration and Cloud Portability for Your Business
Cloud environments allow you take advantage of emerging technologies and foster agility, but benefits and features vary greatly among providers. You may choose a cloud service and use it for some time, only to realize that your business demands are not aligned with that environment.
Cloud-to-cloud migrations are often necessary to maximize your operations—but contrary to popular belief, these migrations don’t have to burden your business or cause disruptions.
Cloud-to-Cloud Migration: The Method Matters
There is no one right way to move your applications and workloads. The specifics of your project depend on the complexity of your migration and time constraints, as well as your unique circumstances. You’ll want to look at your entire infrastructure and segment it into business units or business functions versus moving your systems all at once. Although third-party tools facilitate the process, there are components that require manual labor.
You’ll want to consider:
- How much data needs to be moved and in what way?
- Who is responsible for data extraction?
- Does the cloud provider require that your data be in a certain format?
- What is your budget?
- What is your timeline?
- What is your tolerance for downtime?
Individual workloads or applications should be migrated one by one to reduce the risk of unexpected downtime and reduce the duration of migration.
Automation tools help with this process.
What you discover with these questions will help you prioritize your requirements and determine the order in which you’ll migrate your assets. You’ll also need to determine which method(s) to use.
Here are common options:
- You can save a full backup copy to a device and physically ship it to your new provider, which is ideal when you have large amounts of data and can tolerate some downtime.
- Another option is a live failover. You will need to use a migration provider to precede data and provide a brief cutover. Due to the complexity and cost of this method, it’s usually reserved for Tier 1 applications, such as a CRM.
- The last method is migration over the wire (over the Internet) on a dedicated network link.
Regardless of which method you choose, be sure you create a recent backup copy of your data and perform testing prior to taking the leap.
Avoiding Cloud Portability Issues: What is Vendor Lock-in?
Many organizations don’t realize technologies (protocols, tools, standards, and cloud APIs) are not uniform across platforms. As a result, cloud portability, which is moving applications and data from one cloud environment to another–with little to no interruption–has become an issue in cloud migration.
While companies consider the costs of the initial migration, they often forget about the expenses associated with leaving one platform for another. While you may have good reasons for switching cloud providers, vendor lock-in can make it difficult and cost-prohibitive to move. However, there are ways you can reduce the risks associated with vendor lock-in.
How to Facilitate Cloud Portability
Plan for Multi-Cloud Adoption
Multi-cloud adoption occurs naturally as developers use whichever cloud environment makes the most sense for a particular project or workload. While multi-cloud use has its benefits—such as disaster recovery, development lifecycle support, and cloud bursting—configurations do not automatically support portability. As mentioned before, each cloud provider will have its own unique set of standards.
Careful Vendor Selection
Search for vendors that support portability, interoperability, and standard DevOps standards.
One example of standardization is the Cloud Data Management Interface by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). Universally-accepted standards for platform-to-platform interfaces include standard data structures, cloud APIs, and HTTP operations. If cloud portability is your goal, you must choose cloud-computing vendors that embrace “cloud neutral” technologies like open-source application-platform interface standards that are readily available across providers.
Cloud portability and interoperability is also dependent on the maturity of certain cloud services. For instance, block storage services are more portable than data repositories such as MYSQL.
However, Expedia VP of Technology Subbu Allamaraju notes:
“The value … is in the platform aspects and not the basic primitives. [Cloud] Abstractions to prevent lock-in introduce operational complexity and limit you to common denominator primitives like virtual machines.”
In short, your portability goals may be secondary to what your team is trying to accomplish, so developing a comprehensive cloud strategy is critical.
Although it may seem obvious, be sure you know what you’re signing.
One law firm recommends that you look for providers that offer migration assistance, “including the provision of hosting services for a set period following termination or expiration of the services agreement, and assistance to facilitate the migration of applications in-house or to a new provider.”
As we learned, hybrid cloud combines private and public cloud resources, or for greater security, private cloud with secure cloud delivered services.
Part III: Leverage Hybrid Cloud to Gain a Competitive Edge
Previously, we examined the 3 types of cloud computing and we learned about the pros and cons of each. Let’s look at how your company can leverage hybrid cloud technology to gain a competitive edge in your industry.
Hybrid cloud environments give businesses the best of both worlds–the privacy/security of private cloud and the flexibility of the public cloud. An organization that knows how to use hybrid cloud technology to its advantage will enjoy long-term sustainability.
Beyond the Basic Benefits of Hybrid Cloud Solutions
According to IBM’s report, “Growing Up Hybrid – Accelerating Digital Transformation,” 75% of organizations use some form of cloud technology today.
For many, hybrid cloud solutions make sense from a risk management standpoint. In addition to giving businesses more control over data privacy, hybrid cloud environments offer another advantage. Of the 500 technical decision-makers IBM polled, nine out of every 10 frontrunners associate hybrid cloud environments with the best return on investment over other arrangements.
Consider the benefits of hybrid cloud adoption beyond cost savings to strengthen revenue production:
Instead of purchasing infrastructure, user seats, and intermittent updates for onsite solutions, cloud-based products give companies the ability to adopt and scale solutions on the fly.
Real-time updates improve usability and security on an ongoing basis. Businesses that invest in a hybrid cloud can easily innovate and try out new programs, resulting in faster development cycles, workflow optimization, and better customer satisfaction.
A hybrid cloud can help simplify your IT department’s workload so your organization can focus on improving business outcomes.
Employee Productivity and Satisfaction
Employees today want to access their workplace applications and information on mobile devices as easily as they manage personal affairs. A hybrid cloud gives companies the ability to separate sensitive information from services and applications that benefit from the flexibility of a public cloud arrangement. Employees who feel confident using the tools at their disposal perform better and feel more satisfied.
Cost savings feed into each of these workplace outcomes, which in turn directly impact revenue-driving activities. Hybrid cloud setups come in many flavors—from security-focused data centers and service providers to a blend of varying levels of private cloud services and secure colocation data centers.
Create an Agile Work Culture Through Hybrid Cloud Adoption
“Some companies find themselves in a hybrid mode due to organic growth of their IT infrastructure and may not have a well-thought-out strategy or comprehensive control over their blended environment,” say IBM experts.
Don’t put yourself in this situation—be proactive and purposefully build a hybrid cloud setup. Each solution must reflect the individual needs and goals of your organization.
Businesses of all sizes can use these steps to optimize a hybrid cloud environment and realize a strong competitive edge:
- Overcome areas of concern. Companies can fall into a common trap of identifying the problems instead of the possibilities of using a hybrid cloud environment to its fullest potential. Outline concerns about BYOD, shadow IT, data encryption, compliance, data security and other data management and privacy factors. Find answers, develop processes, and assign responsibility to manage risk and break away from typical cloud solution fears.
- Focus on the people. Technology is a tool. To use it to its full potential, every end user needs to understand the tool, best practices, and any limitations that may exist. Empower employees to make the most of hybrid cloud solutions including software-as-a-service (SaaS), secure file sharing and syncing solutions, and mobile device policies. The technology will facilitate a competitive edge, but employees must lead the charge.
- Partner with trusted solutions Hybrid configurations may include a combination of settings including public cloud services, managed private cloud, private cloud, and colocation private cloud setups. For a hybrid system to work, businesses must collaborate with vendors and choose providers that offer system audits, a focus on security, and cost-effective creative problem-solving. Customer support plays an enormous role in building a competitive advantage via a hybrid cloud.
- Automate as much as possible. Most businesses don’t have time to audit system performance manually, create security reports, monitor network traffic, and log user activity on a regular basis. Automated monitoring programs with built-in alert systems, combined with actionable policies, give hybrid cloud-driven businesses greater flexibility and insight into the stability of their environment.
- Grow with every mistake. Every digitally mature organization undergoes challenges when it embraces disruptive technological solutions. Hybrid cloud adoption is no different. Every obstacle serves as an opportunity for optimization. Focus on interdepartmental cooperation and keeping management involved in the process to overcome challenges. Part of building a competitive edge involves employing the agility to bounce back from mistakes with ease.
With a goals-based and people-first approach, organizations will find, implement, and optimize the right hybrid cloud environment. Each of these steps toward realizing a competitive edge serves as a building block that every industry frontrunner/early adopter has mastered.
Maintain a Competitive Edge
Companies will need to continue to innovate, optimize, and outperform the competition. As hybrid solutions evolve, so must the businesses that use them. From investing in cloud-based disaster recovery solutions to finding the next SaaS to improve employee productivity, each year represents an opportunity for optimization within an ever-changing cloud-based marketplace.
As you can see, cloud computing brings many advantages to many different types of companies. Cloud computing services can help companies be more responsive to market conditions, all while reducing IT costs over the long-haul.
If you’re ready to discover the specific benefits cloud computing can provide your business, don’t hesitate to reach out. Schedule a zero obligation conversation with one of our experts today!