Less equipment, fewer IT team members, continuous upgrades and improved security. These are but a few of the many benefits included in the thousands of articles written about cloud computing. As with all technologies, however, whether it’s the right option for a given company is often a more complicated question.
First a definition: cloud computing is the provision of computing, networking and/or storage capabilities from a service provider to a group of users within an organization. Any IT team that has purchased a service to back up data to a remote site is practicing a form of cloud computing.
- Software-as-a-Service – In this architecture, a service provider offers application software available to users from a remote site. The service provider takes on tasks such as upgrading the software periodically and load balancing among servers to ensure the applications are always available.
- Platform-as-a-Service – In a PaaS model, the service provider makes available not just application software, but also additional parts of the software “stack,” including the operating system, programming language execution environment, Web server and database.
- Infrastructure-as-a-Service – In this architecture, the service provider includes hardware as well as software on a pay-per-use model. The service provider offers services such as maintaining and upgrading the hardware as well as software.
Cloud computing allows entities to offload small or significant portions of purchasing, managing and upgrading a data center. IT teams can also scale up or scale back resources on an as-needed basis.
But to maximize these benefits, IT teams must think through in detail what exactly they are trying to accomplish and the actual versus cost/benefit of a cloud approach. With this in mind, below are 10 tips to consider when analyzing a potential move to a cloud infrastructure.
1. Know your business and its needs – It is important to identify the requirements of employees and identify in detail the business reason and purpose for the move to cloud computing. This is essential to the success of the cloud implementation. Set specific metrics to evaluate the success of the cloud deployment.
2. Define the software and/or hardware desired to be in the cloud – Not all applications are good candidates for moving to the cloud. Before taking advantage of new applications built and developed for the cloud, it is best to start with a low-risk, back office (non-strategic) application before setting your sights on more ambitious targets.
3. Evaluate cloud service providers carefully – Test multiple cloud providers and ask to be setup with trials, if this capability is not automatically offered on their websites. Spend the extra time and effort to find the provider whose offerings best fit the needs of your organization both today and into the future, even if that means setting up test labs, spending more money and taking longer time to implement.
4. Determine “true” costs – Cloud providers usually have subscription fees, configuration fees, internet access, end-user support usage fees and training fees. When researching cloud vendors, consider some other costs that may not be so obvious, such as incremental user fees, storage fees, termination and cancellation fees.
5. Establish a cloud computing committee to assist with evaluation – Form a committee that includes representatives from all key functions within your company; accounting, human resources, sales, etc. This approach will ensure all “voices” are heard during the service provider selection process and that all critical needs are identified and addressed.
6. Study the SLA in great detail – The service level agreement (SLA) identifies exactly the capabilities the service provider will offer. It also may influence existing agreements your company has with software and hardware vendors. The most important terms to focus on when reviewing SLAs include: availability and uptime, guarantees for system performance, security, data ownership and error resolution.
7. Drill down about security – When evaluating cloud vendors, pay particular attention to security. Focus on questions such as where your data will be stored, who at the service provider might have access to it, what layers of security are in place, and how is the remote connection protected.
8. Ask about disaster recovery and business continuity – A primary benefit of cloud architecture is the ability for an organization to continue operations in the event of a natural or other type of disaster. This benefit is only as good as the service provider’s own disaster recovery approach. Where the data is stored, what form of redundancy is in place and what the service provider’s disaster recovery plan is are all highly-relevant questions.
9. Check the quality and redundancy of network connections – Fast and redundant connections are obviously critical for a successful cloud deployment. To avoid a single point of failure, always have at least two fully-redundant internet connections from two different providers in place to reduce the risk of downtime and data loss, but factor the cost of these extra connections into your analysis of cloud costs.
10. Ensure a professional review of all contracts before signing – When you sign a contract with a cloud service provider, you are entrusting them with your organization’s information. For many organizations, information is the most critical asset. If your organization’s legal team does not have experience negotiating agreements with cloud service providers, consider retaining legal counsel with this expertise.
Analyst firm Analysys (News – Alert) Mason predicts cloud computing services will grow from approximately $13 billion in annual revenue in 2010 to more than $35 billion in 2015. It clearly remains the architecture of choice for an increasing number of organizations. But for IT teams to maximize the benefit, they must take a “let the buyer beware” approach and through analyze and understand exactly what services they are purchasing and the costs involved prior to taking the plunge.