The IT industry is no stranger to buzzwords, and cloud computing is a phrase that has been thrown about for quite some time now. It has grown to such an extent that even accessing one’s Gmail can be seen as cloud computing, since, technically, the service is provided over the internet to the end-user, and there is no need for dedicated hardware or software beyond a PC and a browser.
The cloud, essentially, creates choice. Compare Gmail to a mail service like Microsoft Outlook, and you can instantly imagine the advantages of speed and simplicity that cloud computing offers. In these days of shrinking operating budgets, companies would much rather invest in smart systems and technologies – whether physical or virtual – than be tied-down with legacy systems and expensive professionals to manage and demystify them for end-users.
Changing the ways of working now mean that people are working from different locations, different devices, and different kinds of connections – but still expect the same kind of response and service from their company databases and other systems. In the interest of time and simplicity, IT departments would rather manage the overall architecture than be dragged into managing and controlling each user experience.
For the business itself, especially one at the final leg of its IT infrastructure lifecycle, heavy capital expense in dedicated hardware, and multi-location networks should be considered only if it is an essential requirement, regulatory or otherwise. For all others, services, software, applications, and infrastructure over the cloud, would serve their purpose, and probably even uncover new ways to make the business more efficient and competitive.
No two businesses have exactly the same IT needs, and while some approach IT as a tool for efficient employees, some consider IT a competitive differentiator that sets them apart in the market. The 3 most commonly-seen cloud adoption patterns are:
- The Private Cloud: This is especially attractive for businesses that deal with large amounts of confidential data, the misuse of which could lead to business or legal repercussions. The most commonly seen use of a private cloud is in businesses with a dedicated data center, but to which employees are allowed online access through recognized devices and connections that meet certain security parameters.
- The Public Cloud: This is the other extreme of the adoption scale, wherein businesses do away with as much owned or licensed software, applications, and services as possible, preferring to access them all over the cloud, on a need basis. This means the business is able to control costs most effectively, as they only pay for what they use, and are not burdened with high overheads if not used.
- The Hybrid Cloud: The vast majority of businesses that are migrating towards cloud computing would probably fall in this category. This approach combines the security and efficiency of the private cloud model with the speed and innovative approach of the public model.
Another adoption model – one that looks at a cloud migration as more than an organizational enabler – is looking to diversify one’s business and identify new revenue streams through an investment in the migration. Whether the revenue generation is internal or external, this is still a business-driven decision, and therefore, not a primary consideration when the migration is planned.
Navigating the Cloud Journey
The very first step has to be evaluating the situation, the limitations, and envisioning the possible challenges for one’s own unique business situation. This is a crucial step as it draws up the blueprint for the ideal IT infrastructure scenario for the business, and then the components can be marked as to be installed or subscribed to.
Secondly, there needs to be a deep understanding – probably following an internal audit – of the most crucial systems at play within the organization, and the relative ‘heaviness’ of each of these.
Businesses would look at, for instance, their ERP solution and their email or collaboration software in very different light, choosing to migrate enterprise software to a private cloud model, while sourcing the best third-party solution for collaboration through the public cloud model.
The third and last step is identifying the right vendor. Diverse applications are available in plenty, but a vendor should be able to understand the unique business needs, and create a stack of solutions that address current and future needs, while ensuring that the majority of the solution is on open standards.
There would be many IT companies, system integrators, and solution companies that can offer the best solution, and it is the responsibility of the business decision-makers to be fully convinced of the legitimacy and the future-proofing of the solution before investing.
Sizing up the Opportunity
A common misconception that we often deal with is that company-wide cloud adoption is better left to large enterprises that have the resources to effect such deep-seated changes. On the contrary, the customizable nature of the broad cloud computing solution means that there are many aspects of it that would be most appealing to small and medium businesses.
Solutions that can be accessed on a subscription basis are geared towards businesses that wish to access these solutions in small and infrequent volumes, while enterprises could be more open to buying outright.
Today, even traditional enterprise-sized core-banking solutions are available for cooperative and rural banks, in partnership with specialist ISVs. Emerging delivery models and motivating use-cases are the catalysts for innovation in the cloud computing industry, and companies are sparing no effort to understand customer requirements and delight with solutions.
Traveling the Distance
As with any migration, undertaking an architectural – and a mindset – shift within an organization is a challenging task.
Being a fully-customized solution, there could also be unexpected crossroads or roadblocks that the process could face. However by factoring in the right precautions and safeguards, the business and its implementation partner can ensure a largely smooth process.
The author is strategy leader, cloud
computing service, IBM India/South Asia