Clouds Ahead

Oct 19 2011   9:04AM GMT

Unused Capacity vs. Capability

Pedro Pereira Pedro Pereira Profile: Pedro Pereira

One of the best things about cloud computing is the elimination of unused capacity. Cloud solutions, however, don’t inherently address a common problem – unused capability. That one is up to you.

First, let’s deal with how the cloud addresses wasted capacity. Most servers operate at anywhere between 5 percent to 30 percent, which means businesses have tended to get way more computing power than they needed. The Green Grid, a consortium of users, policy makers, IT providers and utility companies working to improve computing efficiency, found in 2009 that 10 percent of servers in datacenters were going unused. The organization estimated those machines added up to 4.4 million servers worldwide collecting dust.

That is a staggering amount of budget-busting waste. By and large it went unnoticed by decision makers until cloud computing started to show people a better way. A growing number of IT vendors now offer computing resources in the cloud that can be turned on and off based on customer needs.

Most servers operate at anywhere between 5 percent to 30 percent, which means businesses have tended to get way more computing power than they needed.

While they are turned on, there should be no reasonable excuse for any capacity to go unused because cloud solutions are elastic, letting you add or remove capacity depending on current requirements. If you need to add users to a cloud-based accounting application, you can do so. You’ll see a small increase on your monthly bill, which is still better than paying for unused equipment. Conversely, if you’ve downsized your sales staff and you need to reduce the number of users of your cloud-based CRM application, you may do so – and save some money.

Regardless of how many users leverage that CRM application to do their jobs, you may not be getting all the use you should out of the software. The application could have more functionality than your users realize. And that’s where unused capability comes in.

Companies often buy an application to solve a single business problem but don’t bother to learn what else the software can do. They actually may be aware of other features they don’t need just yet but figure those functions will come in handy later. In many cases, that never happens.

So you end up with a lot of unused capability, which while not quite as wasteful as unused server capacity, carries the hidden costs of arrested efficiency. The software may have a function or two that, if in use, could spare your workers from mundane day-to-day tasks and allow them to focus on more strategic endeavors.

But you will be able to accomplish this only if you learn as much as you can about the application, so be sure you have the right discussions with your cloud services provider. If there are features in a solution that you don’t need, you might be able to just not buy them. But if they are embedded and you have to buy them anyway, at least find out if or how they can benefit your business.

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