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December 1, 2015updated 28 Mar 2017 5:33pm

What stays in-house when you move to the cloud?

What's your strategy?

By John Oates

What’s your strategy?

One of the dangers for firms moving to the cloud is that the IT department literally gets left behind. Several pieces of research have found pressure to move to the cloud often comes from outside IT. Sometimes projects for individual departments even get the go ahead – leaving large firms with several cloud providers for different parts of the business and no strategic overview.

So you need to sit down and think strategically. What will work across the business and bring the most value for all?

This also means thinking beyond cost savings. A cloud project is a chance to make services better, not just cheaper.

Build an infrastructure to match

For all but the smallest company a move to the cloud really means creating a hybrid environment. Not only will it likely be impossible to shift all business services to cloud providers but, if you’re thinking strategically, you probably won’t want to either.

Cloud services are designed to work with most hardware to there’s no immediate need to throw out legacy kit, or software, which is still working perfectly well. This interoperability is made possible by open source standards which allow systems to work seamlessly together – HP Enterprise’s Helion platform is a good example.

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A good project should allow you to cut costs in terms of internal hardware and software – but saving money shouldn’t be your only goal.

The idea of shutting your data centre and moving all its capabilities to the cloud is of course possible – but not that likely outside of an advert. A partial move is likely to be easier and a better strategic fit for the business.

Out of the box

Clouds don’t fit in boxes. Be suspicious of any vendor who claims to have an instant solution to all your needs. Be aware that while users need not even be aware that some cloud projects have happened the move does mean a major change for the business – and one which is likely to have long-term effects.

This is why you need to get different parts of the business involved from the start – there are big implications which require a strategic approach.

Public and private

Cloud providers are secure. In some cases they may be more secure than your existing infrastructure. The benefit of the public cloud is that you can increase capacity with a simple phone call. But a private cloud will give you greater control and security. But growing or changing it will be a slower process than just phoning your supplier.

There might still be areas of the business that you regard as too sensitive, or too important, to send out of house.

Application development, director-level communications, strategic analysis or future product plans might all be better kept under your complete control.

Conversely you might want to keep something quite simple and not hugely sensitive to stay where it is.

For instance a back-up, in-house contacts system would allow sales staff to keep making phone calls and sending emails even if your hosted CRM system went down.

There might also be issues with bespoke applications, especially those running on virtualised environments. Not everything has to be cloud-based and there are many good reasons for keeping certain applications and services in-house.

Management and finance

It might seem like shifting responsibility for a business service to an outside party means your worries are over. But of course it remains your responsibility to ensure that the services are maintained and managed effectively and efficiently.

The move to the cloud will also mean big changes in how your budget works.

Shifting from capital expenditure to operational expenditure – in simple terms that means not spending big money on initial costs but instead paying some sort of monthly fee – has major implications for budgets.

You should also be aware that typical cloud projects still come with hefty start-up, installation and integration costs.

Numbers

Any project needs numbers. You’ll need these to justify the project to the rest of the business. But you’ll also need accurate numbers to ensure service levels are being maintained.

To get those numbers you will need proper management tools that allow you to see, and document, how the various parts of the system are working. These not only mean you can ‘keep the lights on’ but will also allow proper planning and implementation of future projects.

Connections

Cloud services are not much good without reliable connections. No doubt your internet and network access are already vital parts of your business. But look at them again in terms of security, up-time and capacity.

Think also about mobile connections.

How much will your cloud services be accessed by staff on the move? This might be the right time to discuss mobile access more broadly.

SLAs

Cloud provision requires a partner you trust and will continue to trust for years to come. Moving services to the cloud is not a quick, one-off project – it is an ongoing relationship.

The best relationships are based on trust.

Along with trust you also want a bullet-proof service level agreement. This is the minimum basis on which to start.

You need a good agreement and you need great, agreed ways to measure it.

You also need protection if it does all go wrong. Think about how easy it would be to shift to another provider – again open standards can help here.

The chances are that your business has already moved some of its infrastructure to the cloud. In the broadest terms cloud infrastructure is part of our lives and not likely to go away any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean everything needs to be based in the cloud. Or that you have to rely on just one provider.

Don’t go into a project thinking everything needs to move at once, or even ever. The point of these technologies is that they work together and work with what you’ve already got up and running. They’re meant to bring more, not less, flexibility.

With that in mind, and good support from the rest of the business, clouds needn’t bring headaches.

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