Nearly every business already uses cloud computing in some sense (Gmail, Google Docs, online storage services, etc.). Moving critical business applications to the cloud, however, is another matter. In this guide, we’ll help you assess your move to the cloud, provide some key definitions, and offer suggestions that will help you know where to start, and what it makes sense to focus on right out of the gate.
The Advantages of Cloud
The advantages cloud computing offers over internal data center expansion in terms of cost, flexibility, and scalability across the organization are fairly well understood:
- 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.
How to Prepare Your Business for Cloud Computing
When it comes to preparing your business for cloud computing, here are six critical steps:
- 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.” Cloud computing is on-demand by nature and is essentially synonymous with the phrase “utility computing.”
Understanding the three categories of cloud computing will help in determining where and how each can apply with regard to your IT environment:
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.
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.
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 cloud offers the highest level of efficiency and cost savings, but also the greatest security concerns. A public cloud is defined as a service and infrastructure 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
Start with the steps above to plot your organization’s path to optimizing the right mix of cloud computing approaches to simplify life for users, reduce IT infrastructure costs, and improve operational agility. Once you’ve assessed your move to the cloud, you’ll no doubt have questions and want some additional information. Our team at OnRamp is here to help.