By Paul Mew, Technical Director at leading IT solutions consultancy ramsac
When you call an expert to complete a job at your home, you wouldn't expect to have to choose between someone who feels all jobs can be completed using a spanner and another who only uses a screwdriver. Certainly you'd be worried if someone arrived clutching only a hammer! You want a professional that is well equipped to use the right combination of tools for the job. Yet in the ongoing debate between advocates of cloud computing and those that favour a more traditional localised solution, some IT suppliers are pushing a one-size fits all approach in preference of their chosen solutions and services.
The current atmosphere around cloud computing (if you pardon the pun) is similar to that which surrounded open source software a few years ago, when evangelists pushed the ideal of replacing commercial software with free software. However, the reality has been more conservative and whilst open source has certainly grown its commercial counterpart still dominate. Certain vendors and organisations have adopted open source systems tactically, identifying where they bring value and the risks can be mitigated or accepted. In my view we are in a similar situation today with cloud computing.
Many organisations are already adopting a level of cloud computing, even if they don't realise it. For example, the majority of our clients use an anti-virus/anti-spam/e-mail archiving and digital recording service from Mimecast, a hosted service that scans and archives e-mail before it reaches their mail servers. Five years ago this would have been referred to as a web-based, or hosted service, but today it is considered to be cloud computing.
The challenge for business owners is making an informed decision as to what is appropriate, if anything, to push into the cloud and what is appropriate, if anything, to leave on-site. In our experience most IT people who make such a decision fall into one of two camps. They are either traditional server based people who are very much in favour of the status quo, or they come from a web development background and will push the 'everything into the cloud' model.
Often, I'm afraid to say, it all comes down to money and a shortsighted view by some IT suppliers of the relationship with a client. From the traditionalist's point of view they are worried about losing the hardware, software and installation sales, so will tend to argue strongly against moving anything into the cloud. The various cloud computing providers do offer a reseller model where the IT partner can make some ongoing revenue, but the amounts on offer are so small that they come nowhere near replacing the profit lost from the sale of the hardware, software and services. The risk is that they lose the client entirely, as they feel they are not being given best advice and an opportunity to consider all of the options available.
Meanwhile, web developers have seen cloud computing as an ideal opportunity to grab a slice of the infrastructure pie that they've never been able to access in the past, as they generally don't have the skills required to install, manage and support the servers, software etc. They see cloud computing as a way to compete directly with traditional IT companies, therefore they clearly have a strong desire to push as much as possible into the cloud. They get the same small amount of profit from the cloud services, but for them it's 100% more than they were getting before.
The risk is that the web developers don't necessarily understand what's involved in the process of moving a client to a cloud-based model, so the migration can be long-winded and painful. There can also be a fair bit of hammering a square peg into a round hole to try and make a completely cloud-based model fit a situation where it's clearly not appropriate. After all, the cloud computing evangelist only really has one solution to all problems.
I strongly believe that a more pragmatic approach is necessary and take the view that cloud computing is complimentary to traditional server solutions. The key is approaching the situation with an open mind and without any preconceptions about what the right solution should be. I believe that the most appropriate, natural solution will become clear from the requirements of the client.
By combining the options it is possible to design a much stronger, more flexible, cost effective solution than either a traditional IT company, or a cloud computing evangelist, by being able to pick the best from both worlds. People making decisions around IT in the coming years need to ensure they are being given all the options, both traditional and cloud and not being pushed to accept either one path or the other.
Use a spanner when you need a spanner and a screwdriver when you need a screwdriver.