Moving To The Cloud: Key Questions to Ask

Spend Matters welcomes a guest post from Steve Kekich, a member of the IT Consulting Practice at Archstone Consulting.

While there are differing views on the definition of cloud computing, the key is that an organization purchases computing services on a consumption basis versus paying for a dedicated resource or asset (software, hardware, storage, infrastructure, etc.). There is often much debate regarding the move to cloud computing, the risks, and what benefits it can provide. It is vital to understand your organization's IT needs and prominent factors in making the proper decision. Below are five questions I've come up with to ask yourself:

1) How much Control does your organization need to maintain?

The amount of control required by a company will determine whether they choose a private or public cloud. In a private cloud your data and resources are simply that, private. Your organization's information is separate from all others and this can result in paying a premium price due to less efficiency in storing only your data and applications. In a public cloud, resources can be leveraged to optimum levels, though it does mean your data and systems will share resources with other organizations. One of the cloud's greatest powers is being able to leverage resources. This can be done best in a public cloud with great amounts of data as compared to a individual or private cloud. However, in moving to the public cloud you retain less control, and some organizations require immediate and complete access for any number of reasons. The trade-off on control is that your organization will benefit from improved features and efficiencies that evolve from experience in supporting other clients. But your organization is susceptible to larger performance issues, if they arise, as well as a standard upgrade path.

2) How Complex is your current IT structure?

Moving from a standard environment to the cloud can be difficult. The move can be very difficult if systems are complex or if a lot of legacy components need special attention. It is also key to consider the complexity of functions that are required by your organization. A cloud environment, like any shell, is best suited for someone that can take applications off the shelf and utilize them with minor modifications. If you require very specific functions that may not be available through standard means, the cloud may not be the right option.

3) What is the Elasticity of your organization now and in the future?

One of the great benefits of the cloud is the ease with which your organization can scale up and down very quickly. In a standard environment it would take a lot of time, energy and resources to increase or decrease your user base by 50% overnight. In a cloud environment, a sweeping change in your organization is a much smaller tick on the scale of operations and capacity. If you are likely to change dramatically in the near future, having the ability to scale resources quickly and efficiently could be instrumental in keeping everyone up and running throughout the transition and ensuring success. For organizations that have significant regulatory constraints or complexity, elasticity can still be achieved to a degree through a private cloud leveraging hardware virtualization.

4) What level of Security is necessary for your organization's data?

One stigma of the cloud for many people is that organizations will lose security because the data is no longer stored under lock and key on-site. It is vital to understand the security features maintained by a potential data center, because many employ very strict standards that will rival or even exceed that of a standard environment. Top tier data centers will offer physical security that includes 24x7 on-site personnel, biometric and card security access, CCTV surveillance with DVR recording and more. They also offer redundant power, cooling, and emergency systems that basically guarantee 100% uptime. Furthermore, by moving to the cloud, there are an increased number of options regarding disaster recovery should a major event or failure take place. In order to make a proper decision it is necessary to fully understand your current security environment and your company's risk profile, tolerance to risk, and ability to mitigate those risks.

5) What level of IT Support is required, and is your organization willing to maintain such a level?

The cloud permits access to outside resources that can supplement or replace parts of your current IT structure. This allows for greater knowledge, training materials and support should you choose to pay for and utilize it. Your IT personnel can look forward in their efforts to provide solutions for the organization rather than maintaining a reactive approach. But, as you utilize support assets in the cloud, you will likely lose the white glove, in person, desk-side service that employees may be accustomed to and require.

An IT organization that is providing a great amount of support for tactical systems can migrate many to the cloud, and redeploy resources towards more strategic efforts. Some examples include:

  • Is it more strategic for a company to spend time/money on supporting email in their own data center, or use a cloud-based service and redeploy support personnel to helping Sales & Marketing understand how to mine social media sites for information?
  • Can desktops and local file servers be replaced with a "bring your own device" strategy that provides storage in a cloud (allowing a cleaner "wipe" strategy for employees that leave), while re-deploying staff and funds on researching how technology can improve product development or even enhance offerings?

In summary, moving to the cloud can offer many advantages but of course has certain limitations. There is no one answer that is right for everyone and the correct answer for you might change over time as your organization evolves. To make this determination, start with what functions are most crucial for your IT needs and perhaps you can find a better home in "The Cloud."

- Steve Kekich, IT Consulting Practice, Archstone Consulting

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