Almost every UK company now includes some sort of cloud service as part of its IT armoury.
It might not solve every problem but it does have several key advantages over building in-house infrastructure. Cloud providers can give you far more flexibility in adding capacity when it is needed.
But almost as important is the ability to make savings by switching off capacity when you don’t need it.
But putting everything into the cloud is not going to solve all business needs and could end up being far more expensive than running your own hardware.
And running a cloud-based system might be easier than running a data centre but it still needs careful planning and detailed work to make sure you’re getting the best from your provider, and you’ve chosen the right one.
Even with the world’s best cloud deals there are still aspects of enterprise technology that will still be better kept in-house.
The likelihood is that a hybrid model, with enterprises using a mix of on-premises and cloud infrastructure will be the norm for some years to come.
You won’t hear about any negatives from those selling cloud services. But there are some basic checks to make sure the move doesn’t lose your business any key functions.
First and foremost any cloud service obviously depends on network technology. Bandwidth and latency will suddenly become even more business critical than before.
Along with ensuring you have the bandwidth and speed to properly link to the cloud you also need to make sure you have the SLAs in place to compensate you, and your customers, if things do go wrong. This requires very clear boundaries of responsibility for all the providers involved.
Network access both in the office and on the road need to be guaranteed.
Staying with the pessimism it is vital that any cloud deal does not lock you in. However happily the relationship starts there needs to be an easy way for you to disengage and take your data and applications elsewhere. That means relying on open standards to make it easy to shift providers.
Remember this is a long-term relationship – your needs might change but the business focus of your provider might change too. It makes sense for both partners to know that there is an exit plan if it is required and for that plan to be detailed in the contract.
Do the maths
The great claim for cloud infrastructure is cost savings. Done right there’s no doubt that money can be saved. But don’t ignore set-up fees or termination fees. There is a benefit from accounting for cloud costs out of operating expenditure instead of capital spending. But costs can quickly mount up and a complete reliance on cloud services is unlikely to save you money.
Look carefully at all the costs and compare with an in-house solutions. There might be some surprises with what you can do more cheaply yourself. But equally it is worth carrying out the same exercise for services you might not have considered for the cloud.
A key differentiator for keeping data on your premises instead of sending it to the public cloud has been security. It is generally assumed that in-office hardware is safer. But don’t accept this out of hand. Cloud providers depend on security for their reputation, it is not automatically true that cloud services are less safe than any other piece of internet-connected hardware.
Aside from straight security you also need to think about data protection regulations and under which jurisdiction data is held. European laws are about to get even tougher with the General Data Protection Regulation which will hit firms with fines of up to four per cent of global turnover for data breaches.
Just as important is knowing where responsibility lies in the event of a problem. If a member of your staff uploads malware to your cloud provider who will clean up the mess?
Don’t outsource business benefits
There is a wider strategic reason why a hybrid infrastructure is better for most businesses. Enterprise technology is not just a business expense.
At its best it can bring genuine business benefit and competitive advantage. But that won’t happen if it is all happening in a distant data centre run by another company. Or rather if it does happen it will be an advantage for your cloud provider not for you.
Many start-up companies have relied on cloud providers during the early stages of their growth. The advantages of fast scalability and instant access to business services are clear. Equally there is a big benefit for an under-funded firm to avoid capital expenditure.
But as the business matures there is often a strategic advantage in moving services back in-house.
Taxi service Uber provides a great example of this.
It launched its service using Google Maps to guide drivers.
But as it matured it bought its own mapping company and began in-house development. This provided both a competitive advantage – a better map for drivers – as well as a barrier to entry for potential competitors.
Depending how Uber’s business model changes mapping might even be a service it sells on to other companies completely separate to its taxi business.
So don’t outsource the baby with the bathwater.
A hybrid model will allow you to keep key services under your own control and provide the opportunity for competitive development in-house. This mixed environment should bring the benefits, savings and flexibility of cloud services while keeping your in-house staff focussed on moving the business and its applications forward.