We’ve all heard of the cloud. But how can your organization benefit from cloud computing?
“The times they are a changin’,” sang Bob Dylan. Those words ring true now more than ever. With the evolution of social media and online member communities, organizations of all types are under increased pressure to be transparent and perform. In other words, they are being asked to do more with less while under a brighter spotlight. Whether it is government compliance and funding if you’re a non-profit, or stakeholders questioning return on investment if you’re an enterprise-level business, it is crucial that organizations take advantage of technology that will help them increase efficiencies, reduce costs and improve their accountability.
The evolution of Cloud computing has made the dream of leveraging the latest innovations in technology a reality. While it is not new, it is becoming more accessible, making it a good choice for businesses of any size. The cost is falling, and it is a great time to consider shifting your organization to the Cloud.
What exactly is the cloud?
The Cloud is a collection of servers in a data center that provides businesses and consumers accessibility to their data. It sounds simple, but there is a lot that goes into maintaining and guaranteeing uptime. The Cloud is not a beautiful thing in the sky, but rather, a lot of concrete, steel and cables. Luckily, there are services and hosting providers that can help you handle the behind-the-scenes stuff. A few different solutions are available to help make your organization’s Cloud computing experience seamless:
- SaaS (Software as a Service): Application suites hosted in the Cloud that you can access and use anywhere—for example, Office 365, Google Apps, etc.
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): A full server solution that is mostly used for full Cloud solutions, including virtual desktops where there are no desktops in-house. This means that users either connect using a remote desktop or other desktop streaming application available (Citrix, VMware View, etc.). Solutions such as these can also be used for enterprise resource planning systems or main business application hosting and then streaming to desktops in-house.
Taking advantage of the cloud
Choosing a Cloud solution for your organization frees up staff time by making email maintenance, software upgrades and insecure information storage a thing of the past. It also improves data analysis, communication and productivity of your organization so you can achieve your mission. Some key benefits follow.
Anytime, anywhere access
Mobility and remote access are especially important for organizations. Whether staff members work remotely or board members are on the road, anytime/anywhere access is a requirement for efficiency and productivity. Web-enabled access to email, important documents, contacts and calendars on almost any device—including tablets and smartphones—frees you to work where and when you choose, allowing you to increase efficiency and provide real-time management and action. The mobile capabilities of Cloud computing enable managers and stakeholders full access to key metrics, reports and databases regardless of location.
Lower, predictable costs
With the Cloud, organizations can dramatically reduce costs by eliminating hardware fees and reducing software fees. The Cloud eliminates the burden of installing, maintaining and upgrading software solutions. You’ll also get enterprise-level security, backups, and disaster recovery and reduce your risk of a data breach, all at a much lower cost than doing it yourself.
Privacy and security
While you may think that your organization’s on-premise system is safer in your own office than “floating around somewhere on the internet,” this is a common misconception. In truth, the best Cloud providers have teams of experts whose sole job is to detect and prevent threats. The time and resources required to stay on top of every new virus or hacking scheme pulls attention away from your organization’s objectives. With the Cloud, your organization can have access to some of the best security experts in the world and benefit from privacy and security levels that far exceed what your on-premise solution could offer. This capability results in a level of security that individual organizations cannot match.
Data control and access
The fear of outages, ensuring you maintain ownership of your data, and guaranteeing that no data is lost in disasters or emergencies are major concerns. Trying to restore data from thumb drives and personal computers is a nightmare that needs to be avoided at all costs. Systems and data hosted in the Cloud are better protected from hackers, as well as from equipment failures because redundancy is built into operations. Data is backed up and replicated, so if by chance something does fail, your operations continue uninterrupted.
Considerations with the cloud
While the Cloud has many key benefits, no solution is fool-proof. Here are a few additional things to consider when making your decision to use a Cloud solution.
When your data or company applications are hosted, your internet connection is more crucial than ever. An internet outage can cause several hours’ worth of downtime and loss of productivity. However, this easily can be remedied by having a redundant internet provider or a fiber internet line. For some companies that give their employees laptops and mobile devices, staff can go home or to another remote location to work.
Services like Dropbox that offer file-based Cloud solutions may not always be the best option. Dropbox requires data to be synchronized to a computer so that the end user can access it while being offline. This can become a security concern since potentially all company data can be stored on each individual machine. It only takes one computer being stolen to compromise all of your data. Another issue can occur when multiple users modify the same file while offline; once they connect back to the internet, the files will synchronize. When that happens, you will end up with multiple copies and versions of the same file. The files don’t become locked when in use, and you might find yourself stuck sifting through files and trying to figure out which changes need to be merged.
Luckily, you can approach this issue by using computer encryption or a different file server solution. Hybrid Cloud—a mix of on-premise, private Cloud and third-party, public Cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms—is very popular among small to medium-sized businesses. It allows you to utilize some Cloud services, such as hosted email, while still keeping on-premise solutions such as a file server and Active Directory.
Most out-of-the-box Cloud solutions do not allow you to customize their products. Vendors offer businesses a product and are not flexible when it comes to their needs or changes. Think of it as a one-size-fits-all. This becomes important when choosing your Cloud solution and making sure that the product you pick fits most of your company’s primary needs. A recommendation is to make a list of what features you must have and ones you can live without. Then find a solution that meets most of your must-haves. Vendors can assist with this process and come up with the right solution for your business.
When choosing a Cloud provider, you need to find the right partner. Get references and do your due-diligence. Not every vendor will put the client first. Choosing a solution based on price may not be the best approach. Find a solution that truly will work for your business from a trusted partner. Last, make sure you have agreements in place and your data can not be held hostage.
Moving into the cloud
The simple fact is, Cloud Computing may not be a good fit for every organization, and if you don’t get all the facts or fully understand the pros and cons, you can end up making some very poor and expensive decisions that you’ll deeply regret later. You need to consider the reliability of your internet connection, what type of help-desk support you want, security, what other applications (accounting, CRM, AMS, etc.) you need and which devices (scanners, printers, iPads) you need to use.
If you want to know if Cloud Computing is right for you, you are welcome to contact MXOtech for a Cloud readiness assessment. We’ll evaluate your current situation and provide insights and options for moving to the Cloud. We’ll also answer any questions you have and tell you the unvarnished pros and cons of choosing this option.
About the Author
Joanna Sobran is the president and founder of IT services company MXOtech. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.