By Joy Gardham, Regional Director EMEA West, Brocade
Technology has fundamentally changed the way business is done today; from employees expecting to be able to access personal or business data from any location or device, to the emergence of new business models like managed services or sharing economies.
Cloud computing has played an integral part in this change, offering a huge potential for small firms to enter new markets and survive in the new digital economy. It allows organisations to rapidly scale their computer resources, manage and process a myriad of data, and help control their IT spending. According to a recent survey, nearly half of all small firms in the UK now use cloud computing to increase flexibility and reduce costs.
That said, with data growing at 40% a year and IT spending only rising by 5% a year, there’s an increasing imperative to invest. The challenge for many of today’s business leaders is understanding what type of cloud solution makes the most sense for their organisation, as one size does not fit all.
Understanding the options
Cloud computing has traditionally broken down into two models: public and private. The difference between the two lies in who maintains control and responsibility for the data centre and is ultimately responsible for ensuring application service levels are met.
In public cloud computing, some or all aspects of operations and management are handled by a third party service provider. Public clouds offer a number of advantages; such as low costs and scalability. They can be extremely useful for companies needing to deal with large amounts of data or for those that don’t have the resources to manage their own infrastructure. However, concerns have been raised about how secure these public clouds are, and where the data they hold is physically stored; something that can be a major issue from a regulatory perspective. As a result, public clouds are often thought of as being suitable primarily for non-sensitive data or applications.
On the other hand, private cloud offers a very different set of benefits. The private cloud model is based on the data centres being owned and maintained by the organisation using them. What that means is businesses have the ability to create a virtualised IT infrastructure that prepares them for the future, is built on an organisation’s own terms, and still maintains the flexibility and scalability of cloud-based applications. Unlike the public cloud, private cloud computing does require an organisation’s own IT team and sufficient resource, which can sometimes prove impractical for small companies.
Private and public clouds bring their own unique advantages and disadvantages and many companies may require elements of both. As a result, we are seeing a third option become increasingly popular that combines the best of both models; hybrid clouds.
Hybrid clouds fuse the qualities of both public and private clouds, allowing companies to take advantage of both cloud models in a way that works best for their business, now and in the future.
What to consider: business goals vs. resource
According to Gartner at least 80% of business data is unstructured. As small firms mature, the right cloud solution can help ensure that number only decreases. Finding the right balance between the businesses long and short-term goals and resources available can be a challenge. Here are some of the key considerations businesses need to think about before investing for the first time or boosting their current offering:
• [/b]Resources and skills:[/b] One of the most crucial questions is; does the business have the resources to effectively implement a hybrid cloud approach? Hybrid clouds require not only time and financial resources, but also an in-house technical expert with knowledge of the cloud infrastructure — both public and private elements — if it is to be effectively managed.
• Reliability: Data is the lifeblood of any business, so ensuring that IP is safe is imperative. Companies therefore need to consider how to deploy a reliable cloud structure so that mission critical applications and data are always available.
• Shift in IT mindset: If your business has a designated IT team, it’s important that they believe in a service-oriented approach, rather than the traditional infrastructure-oriented thinking. This will ensure any technology implemented now will ultimately prepare the business for the future.
• Security: At a basic level, security measures need to balance the probability of a threat occurring, the impact of a security breach, and the cost of implementing countermeasures. To avoid putting your company’s data at risk while keeping costs low, find a middle ground and establish what data needs to be placed in private clouds versus public clouds. Most importantly, vet your public cloud suppliers rigorously, as privacy and security issues around data can impact the location you physically store your data in.
With all of that in mind, small businesses shouldn’t clamour to completely overhaul their existing infrastructures and jump into the cloud with both feet. A well-thought through strategy takes time and understanding of where the business is now and where it would like to be in 5-10 years. This should play a significant role in guiding cloud investment levels. The data explosion isn’t going away, but cloud offers firms a unique opportunity to level the playing field against businesses of all sizes and deliver a real competitive advantage.