Hitching your IT wagon to the cloud carries organization and personnel implications. This means the deployment of a cloud-based environment requires doing new things that are bound to cause initial discomfort.
This is certainly the case if you are one of those organizations with a sprawling IT department operating in separate silos. In such scenarios, different teams own different components of your IT environment, and they don’t necessarily work together to meet common goals.
Teams could be separated by function, so you might have some folks working on security and business continuity, while another group handles network infrastructure, and yet another handles databases and related applications. Even worse, you could have separate teams performing the same functions but in different locations with different equipment and application versions.
Employees organized by function or location don’t necessarily report to the same managers, so you end up with organization issues not only in the IT infrastructure itself but also the people who run it.
Things can get pretty messy in corporate IT. Often poor growth planning and mergers are the principal causes. Systems that should be communicating operate independently while policies and processes vary from one location to another.
You could have separate teams performing the same functions but in different locations with different equipment and application versions.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this kind of hodgepodge setup is an efficiency killer that potentially exposes an organization to security risks and data loss.
But try to fix it, and you may actually hit some roadblocks. Especially if you mention the cloud.
This is where you run into personnel issues, with people trying to protect their jobs. It’s a natural reaction but left unchecked, it is detrimental to day-to-day operations and future strategic planning. A poorly designed IT infrastructure managed through separate IT fiefdoms will surely encumber any organization’s growth.
So any plan to move IT assets to the cloud has to cover the question of how to get IT personnel buy-in. A downsizing in personnel may be in order, but not necessarily so. That of course depends on how much of the technology you keep in house, in a private or hybrid cloud environment, and the level of service you get from your cloud providers.
For some companies, there is an opportunity to shift the focus of the IT staff away from day-to-day functions to strategy. And that, when you think about it, is one of the benefits of the cloud – refining your strategic focus.
As 2011 draws to an end, it’s impossible not to wonder what the New Year has in store. Without getting into the usual prognostications, the question of what’s in store for cloud computing is inevitable.
For two to three years, the IT industry has talked up the cloud, and vendors such as Microsoft and IBM have been touting their cloud-focused technology. Elsewhere, technology that was available over the Internet has become cloud technology. So you see Salesforce.com and Amazon reposition themselves as cloud vendors for services that in some cases already were available before all the talk about the cloud.
In other words, for years you could get services over the Web that now are considered “cloud,” so what exactly, then, is the difference and why all the discussion?
The difference, as I see it, is businesses are coming to a point now where they have to decide whether to replace technology fundamental to their operations with cloud services, as opposed to just using a cloud-based application or two.
The very data you store in the cloud could be the data that saves your business it you ever have to recover it following a catastrophic event.
A lot of companies already have embraced the remote storage and backup services that now are usually referred to as cloud storage. But as fundamental as storage and backup are, I would hazard to guess a lot of businesses still view it as more of a side thing you don’t think about (which is precisely why a remote or cloud approach is ideal).
It’s easier to move something to the cloud that you think about much, anyway. Now comes the trickier question of whether companies are willing to trust the productivity applications they use daily to what, let’s face it, to many people is still an abstraction.
And that, I believe, is the question that more and more decision makers will grapple with in 2012. They’ll be bombarded with marketing from Microsoft, Google, Amazon and companies they haven’t even heard about to make a leap to the cloud. And if you work with an IT services provider, chances are the provider will be pushing cloud services as well.
Of course, you’ll wonder about reliability and security as you weigh the pros and cons of cloud. And those are legitimate worries. But when you think about it, if you already use cloud data backup and trust your data to sit out there, isn’t it time to consider other cloud services as well? Remember, the very data you’ve agreed to store in the cloud could be the data that saves your business it you ever have to recover it following a catastrophic event.
And that’s some food for thought as you enjoy your holidays. Happy New Year!
Users of Microsoft Office applications may wonder if they should migrate to the productivity suite’s cloud-based counterpart, Office 365. For a few bucks a month per user, Office 365 provides an attractive alternative to desktop-based applications.
Of course, before you flip a switch to turn off your legacy applications, it would help to consider a few pros and cons. You see, nothing is ever that simple.
First, let’s look at a couple of pros.
For one thing, Office is familiar. Anybody who has used a PC in the past couple of decades surely has used Office applications at one point or another. We’re talking about Word, Excel and PowerPoint primarily, though Office has grown over the years to include applications I don’t even know about. (I use a Mac, so that’s my excuse.)
Anybody who has used a PC in the past couple of decades surely has used Office applications at one point or another.
With the products’ familiarity in mind, presumably the switch to Office 365 would be fairly painless for your average user.
From a business standpoint, the cloud-based version of Office spares you the potentially taxing duties of maintaining multiple instances of Office in different computers, which often are using different versions of the product. With Office 365, maintenance and updates are done for you.
Microsoft charges small businesses $6 per user monthly for the service, while enterprises pay a monthly fee that starts at $10 per user.
On the negative side, when you switch productivity applications to a cloud-based environment, you are taking a risk. Microsoft offers a 99.9 percent uptime financial guarantee, meaning the vendor will refund you for outages, but that’s little consolation when you’re prevented from doing your work because a server somewhere in the cloud decided to act up. Be warned: Outages already have taken place.
Another thing to watch out for before switching is the setup. Though it should be a relatively simple process, setting up Office 365 requires proper configuration to ensure users get access to the tools and features they need. You don’t want users realizing they have been barred mistakenly from a certain resource after you’ve already made the move.
And that brings us to a final, but important, point: Office 2010 has some capabilities that Office 365 doesn’t offer. Before committing to the cloud-based service, be sure to find out which components you won’t have access to and decide if that makes a difference to your business.
One way to find out, of course, is to take advantage of Microsoft’s 30-day free trial.
Honestly, it gets a little tiresome to see all the predictions in the IT industry at this time of year, especially since many predictions amount to nothing more than safely drawn conclusions of trends already in full swing.
So I will spare you the prognostications and, instead, invite you to dream a little. Clearly, 2012 will see an acceleration of the adoption of cloud computing and virtualization, and users will continue bringing personal mobile devices to work, putting pressure on IT departments to figure out how to manage and secure all those smartphones and tablets.
But if you look beyond 2012, the main question becomes, “How much cloud?”
Short of a catastrophic event that derails the adoption of cloud computing, the cloud ultimately will dominate the IT landscape. Sure, there will be plenty of fits and starts, but as companies get comfortable with cloud-based resources, eventually those resources will become the norm.
So for the holdouts out there, what I’m saying is, resistance is futile.
Short of a catastrophic event that derails the adoption of cloud computing, the cloud ultimately will dominate the IT landscape.
However, it’s important to stress all clouds are not created equal. A good deal of cloud-like or cloud-aware resources will be deployed in-house in hybrid private/public cloud environments.
With such big names as Microsoft making a big push into the cloud with things like Windows Azure and Office 365, and Google trying to push back Microsoft with its own cloud offerings, it’s hard to imagine a future where the cloud isn’t at the center of it all.
If the public cloud infrastructure is stable enough – and that’s a big if because, let’s face it, serious continuous investment will be needed to keep it so – we will see companies that have made a name for themselves with on-premise solutions replace those solutions with a strictly cloud-based approach.
Or at the very least, you’ll have offerings designed to be “cloud-aware,” which means they will be developed to play with cloud-based resources through easy integration.
Lenovo, for instance, has a hosted applications service that detects laptops hardware capabilities such as processing power, memory and battery life, to optimize the services delivered to those laptops. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, has introduced cloud-aware printing solutions designed to allow devices to use printers in the cloud without all the usual configuration steps.
[OK, here I must throw in an aside because printers are usually the biggest pain in the neck a computer user will deal with. I don’t care who makes it, a printer will act up sooner or later and frustrate the hell out of you.]
But let’s say this stuff works – remember, I invited you to dream – we are looking at a world down the road where computing becomes more useful, flexible and efficient. If your iPhone can access a cloud-based printer to print something or the technology does all the hard work for you when configuring a laptop, you will enjoy new levels of IT usefulness and flexibility.
Hell, one could say you’ll be floating on clouds.
Technology is supposed to make your life better. It makes you more efficient and productive, and allows you to do things your way.
That’s the theory, anyway. And for a long time, before the advent of cloud computing, IT companies didn’t always deliver on that promise. At times, they didn’t even come close.
Operating systems often were clunky and just short of intuitive, desktops were poorly organized and the technology didn’t always work as promised. While PCs were still the new thing, tech companies could get away with this because, well, users didn’t know any better.
But that’s in the past. With stability achieved for the most part, IT companies have to work a little harder to deliver new improvements.
As such, cloud computing is proving a gift from the heavens for the IT user. Once you’re in the cloud, dropping technology that stinks is as easy as getting it in the first place. You don’t have to be stuck with a faulty piece of equipment or temperamental application because you paid for it upfront.
This forces IT companies to innovate.
Once you’re in the cloud, dropping technology that stinks is as easy as getting it in the first place.
Take, for instance, OS33, a vendor making a name for itself with a fresh approach to desktop computing. OS33 offers a cloud-based customizable IT platform that essentially lets you replace your desktop with a “webtop.”
The platform spares you the intricacies of integrating technology from multiple vendors and the physical infrastructure that has been the bane of many an IT administrator. OS33 takes pretty much everything you use, from servers to operating systems to security and storage, and turns it into a hosted cloud platform.
Assuming you have a stable Internet connection, this is an ideal approach for a user or business that doesn’t want to waste time figuring out which IT piece does what and how, as long as it just works.
From a user standpoint, the most powerful thing OS33 does is to allow you to organize applications, documents, email and Web links however you want. Your webtop becomes a true reflection of how you do your work. You can add tabs and panels at will that take you to the computing resources you use. So instead of cluttering your desktop with a hodgepodge of icons and links, you can set up your webtop neatly.
Beyond that, OS33 is working with its service partners to deliver cloud services that take complexity out of IT administration. Among those services is Cloud Drive, which allows the company’s service partners to unify storage capabilities from Amazon and Microsoft into a single solution.
Along with OS33, a host of cloud service vendors is out there coming up with innovations that will forever change how you use technology. And most importantly, you don’t have to stick with an application or solution if it doesn’t fit your needs because, in the cloud, you have the power.
Cloud computing is all about making choices. Among those choices is whom to trust to deliver and manage the services that best suit your day-to-day needs and support strategic endeavors.
You have three basic choices:
- Manage the services yourself
- Let the service vendor handle it
- Use an IT service provider
The first option would prove counterproductive in most cases. While you could manage a private cloud efficiently enough, so long as you have the staff, the point of cloud computing is to minimize internal IT resources. Current IT workers could be put to better use on strategic projects rather than manage day-to-day tasks handled in the cloud.
Presuming you hire a reliable provider with a good track record, you should enjoy more uptime, improved security and timely technology updates.
The second option, to let a vendor manage the service, is fine for a single cloud service. But say you have several business applications in the cloud, as well as data backup and recovery, and an Exchange server. If you source each of these services from a different vendor, you are dealing with different billing cycles and requirements, service policies and customer service approaches.
That’s costly and far from ideal.
The preferable approach, especially for small and midsize businesses, is to hire a company that specializes in service delivery. There is a legion of IT-focused companies out there that handle cloud services, and some are positioning themselves as aggregators who manage services from multiple vendors for their clients.
Service providers come in different shapes and sizes, much like their clients, so due diligence is required to find one that best suit your needs. As a rule, stick to a company that is local or has a presence in your area, even if that means they hire third-party local technicians for troubleshooting. The point is you want someone who can respond quickly should something go wrong.
The benefits of hiring an IT services provider are manifold. Chief among them is reduced costs and the ability for you to focus on your core business. Because the service provider takes on the responsibility of keeping your IT environment in top form, you can unburden your staff from daily and unpredictable troubleshooting tasks. Cost reduction comes from economies of scale service providers enjoy that are simply not available to end clients.
In addition, presuming you hire a reliable provider with a good track record, you should enjoy more uptime, improved security and timely technology updates. Cloud-based updates generally are automated, so your provider simply has to monitor the process and act to prevent any problems whenever there are signs of trouble.
Sure, you could go it alone into the cloud. But why would you?
All right, folks, expect to see a ton more bad cloud-related puns in coming months, as the trend toward moving IT assets to the cloud accelerates. You might say cloud business is about to soar. (See, I warned you!)
Cisco Systems, the networking giant, has released a study predicting that global traffic generated by cloud services will reach 1.6 zetabytes by 2015. That would represent a 12-fold increase from the traffic generated in 2010.
What’s a zetabyte, you say? Glad you asked. One zetabyte is roughly 1,000 exabytes, 1 million petabytes, or about 1 billion gigabytes. Let’s say your laptop has a 500-GB hard drive – it would take some 320,000 laptops to handle 1.6 zetabytes.
Considering the world’s population of 6.8 billion souls, 320,000 laptops isn’t that impressive, I grant you. But what if I tell you that 1.6 ZBs is only one third of the 4.8 ZBs of traffic Cisco predicts data centers will generate globally by 2015? And what if I tell you that number is still only part of the amount of data floating around the digital world? Suffice it to say that by 2020, the total volume of data generated in the digital world is expected to reach 35 zetabytes.
Between email, databases and business, media and collaboration applications, a whole lot of information is being created every second.
It would take way too many zeros to tell you how much that is in gigabytes. The point is it’s a lot.
What does it mean to you, though? For starters, you need to understand that data volumes are growing exponentially. Between email, databases and business, media and collaboration applications, a whole lot of information is being created every second. And don’t forget the smartphones and tablets that are increasingly finding their way into corporate environments.
All of that puts pressure on businesses to get a handle on who is using the data, where and for what. There are security, privacy and management implications that a business ignores at its own peril.
And don’t forget cost. You reach a point at which adding physical servers and storage becomes prohibitive, and that’s when you really need to start thinking about cloud-based resources if you haven’t already.
Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons data volumes are growing so fast is the transition to cloud services. Every time you send a file into the ether, it generates traffic data several times the size of the file itself. So it’s a self-feeding thing. As the cloud generates more traffic, in many cases you’ll be better off using the cloud for management and cost reasons.
And what all that means is that if you don’t have a cloud strategy yet, it’s time to sit down and get serious about it.
Remember when we didn’t use cell phones or email? It’s like wondering what we did before the ATM. Did people go around with big wads of cash in their pockets because they couldn’t get a quick hundred whenever they wanted?
As cloud computing asserts itself in our lives, try to imagine what we’ll be looking back on years from now, wondering how we ever got by without this or that. If you think we’re dependent on technology at home and in the office, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Like it or not, more and more of our lives will become dependent on the public cloud – to the point that virtually everything we do will have something to do with the cloud.
Take a second or two to absorb that thought.
Got it? OK, now let’s continue. Accept the cloud is here to stay, privacy and security concerns notwithstanding. It will affect us in ways we can only start to imagine, so you might as well get ready.
Like it or not, more and more of our lives will become dependent on the public cloud – to the point that virtually everything we do will have something to do with the cloud.
It’s no longer impossible to image using your smartphone to control the lights, heat and air conditioning. You can turn your TV on and off with it, flip through channels and schedule recordings of your favorite shows. A few months ago, I was at a family function when one of my cousins whipped out his Blackberry to turn on the lights at his place of work – 70 miles away.
I remember scoffing at LG’s refrigerator with a built-in TV some years back, but now I see the company was simply ahead of its time. You can find those units at Overstock.com now, but they seem to be discontinued. Ah, the price you pay for being ahead of your time!
Now I see the introduction of the Nest thermostat, designed by Tony Fadell, who also designed the iPod. Rather than scoff, I marvel at it. Here you have an iPod-like device that learns your habits to adjust temperatures throughout the day to your liking.
Siri, the iPhone’s new voice-command technology, gives us a glimpse at the possibilities. You can tell Siri to give you reminders throughout the day. So long as you keep your iPhone close, you’ll never have an excuse to forget anything again. You can tell Siri to call your mother or text your business partner. Someone already has figured out how to get Siri to control a thermostat. (Hey, it gets cold in New England this time of year, so forgive my thermostat obsession!)
Will Siri be able to remotely start your car or unlock your office doors? Using the Internet of Things, will Google give us technology to turn on coffee pots remotely? Will your car eventually drive itself and take orders from a GPS system that processes information in real time from traffic lights and highway sensors for optimal routing?
I’m going to guess yes on all of the above, though some of these things will take a while. But when they happen, we’ll look back on decisions like whether we should replace our Exchange server with a cloud-based service and think them quaint. As painstaking as these decisions are today, we’ll look back and say, “Times were simpler then.”
Cloud computing raises some serious questions about data. Who controls the data, how can you be sure it is secure, and what happens if your cloud service provider has an outage?
You could write a book trying to address each of these questions. But since we have limited space here and you have enough demands on your time, I will do my best to address the major points. In this blog, we’ll tackle control and leave the other two questions for future entries.
Unless you have a private cloud environment, you effectively relinquish, or at the very least share, control of your data. This is a nerve-wracking reality in cloud computing scenarios.
You could lose a lifetime’s worth of sleep worrying about the potential for errors, malicious activity and system malfunctions – especially if your company handles sensitive information protected by regulations such as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), Sarbanes-Oxley (or Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act) and Gramm–Leach–Bliley (or Financial Services Modernization Act).
Unless you have a private cloud environment, you effectively relinquish, or at the very least share, control of your data.
Run afoul of any of these regulations, and you’re inviting trouble. To prevent that, any company using cloud solutions must take great pains to ensure that whoever controls the data knows what they’re doing. Make sure your service provider uses security methods such as authentication and identity management, access control, encryption and secure deletion.
Before signing up for any cloud-based services handling private data, be sure to research the provider’s background and track record. Ask for customer referrals and contact the customers to hear about their experiences with the provider.
Of course, no amount of research will ensure a 100 percent trouble-free cloud computing experience, so trust plays a role. And since trust is earned, entering into a contract with a provider requires a leap of faith.
But contracts exist for a reason, and in this case they provide protections to your and your provider. The worst thing you could do, of course, is to enter into some kind of arrangement where no contract is signed.
A contract with a cloud service provider must stipulate that your data should be available only to authorized users within your organization, and that the provider will do everything it reasonably can to prevent leaks or breaches.
Furthermore, the contract must require that data you delete because it is no longer needed, or isn’t required to be archived per government regulations, is indeed deleted – not only from the original files but also in any database or backup system where it is replicated. This is an important point; we all now how hard it really is to delete data.
Control over data is one of the biggest concerns business decisions makers have about the cloud. The best you can do is pick a reliable cloud services provider to the best of your abilities and protect yourself through a well-written contract.
With the economy stuck in a rut, planning for business growth may feel like wishful thinking. Even the 2.5 percent GDP growth the government reported for the third quarter isn’t good enough to start solving our economy’s persistent unemployment problem.
Still, it makes sense for companies to be thinking about the future and ensure their IT infrastructures can support business growth. You have to believe that at some point the economy will start to improve in a meaningful way – hopefully sooner than later.
And when that happens, from an IT perspective, there is no good reason anymore to allow aging equipment and obsolescent software to hinder growth, as was often the case with legacy environments.
From an IT perspective, there is no good reason anymore to allow aging equipment and obsolescent software to hinder growth.
With cloud computing, you are always ready for growth. Cloud services are elastic, allowing companies to quickly add or reduce capacity as needed. In other words, your organization is not restricted by the size or performance of physical servers, or by the need to add data management systems or new business applications.
For your cloud services provider, adding a virtual server to meet business growth requirements is a simple matter. Depending on the provider and the setup, it could take minutes to hours to, at most, a day or two. Deploying an application, or adding users to an existing cloud service, could be as simple as flipping a light switch.
Whether you are adopting a new cloud service or adding capacity, you don’t have to build or expand your IT infrastructure. It already exists, be it in the Internet-based public cloud or your own private cloud environment. In a private cloud environment, adding capacity could be a simple matter of turning on previously unused nodes.
Rapid deployment and provisioning are among the most attractive benefits of cloud services adoption. Of course pricing also typically is very attractive, but decisions made strictly on price aren’t always the best. That’s a big topic, though, and we will explore it in a future blog.
As any successful business decision maker knows, you always have to keep an eye on current day-to-day operations and the other on the future of the business. And since the future of the business is intricately linked with a company’s IT strategy, it makes infinite sense to make cloud computing an integral plank in that strategy. With the cloud, managing IT to accommodate business expansion has never been easier.