31/03/11

By Richard Gooding, heads EMEA marketing for i365, a Seagate Company.

If You Keep Hearing about Cloud Computing it’s Time to Start Listening.

Every so often business leaders are faced with the insatiable appetite of information technology. At times budgets are pried loose with the help of enthusiastic partners or customers who are themselves investing in something new and are encouraging you to join them. And there are other times where there is such a fuss stirred up in the marketplace about a particular hardware, software or application that one can’t help but get swept up in all the excitement and promises that ‘this XYZ technology will forever change the way we do business’ and other over ambitious assurances. But there are also those situations where the excitement of technological innovation is matched with trusted evidence and practical business need. In those cases the next big decision for a business becomes less about following a trend and more about making a smart business decision.

Cloud computing has caused such a situation.

No doubt you’ve heard about the ‘cloud’ but thought of it as a fad, which would be best left for early adopters to experiment with — certainly not your business. Well, in actual fact the concept of cloud computing goes back to the 1960s, and today’s iteration has actually been around for over four years. In other words the experimental phase is well and truly over; cloud computing is mature enough to benefit everyone from the sole proprietor to the largest enterprise.

Plainly described as the next evolutionary step for the Internet, the cloud comprises an off site location (or locations) that house a data centre within which storage capabilities, software applications and infrastructure are available to users as they require them.

Putting the Cloud into Perspective

Twenty five years ago the architecture of business computing resembled a hub and spoke model. The network-server environment consisted of a centralised server hosting applications to dumb terminals. It was pretty simple and straightforward but certainly not very dynamic.

From that time to present day, things have reversed somewhat as the hardware and software makers convinced us that distributing capabilities to interconnected workstations was the best way to empower employees and get the most from them. We ended up with fully independent and self sustainable computers each equipped with its own applications, networking capabilities and the storage needed to run them.

But within that architecture there was a flaw - or more accurately, there were undetected inefficiencies.

For decades most businesses thought nothing of a significant, up-front capital investment every five or so years for new hardware and software, which inevitably included costs for license fees and maintenance. The problem with all this distributed functionality was the amount of waste it created. What was the point of equipping expensive presentation software for the accounting department and complex database applications for the sales team? It didn’t make sense for everyone to have a Swiss army knife in their pocket when a corkscrew would do.

Enter Cloud Computing

One important reason for cloud’s success is that it represents an evolution rather than a radical re-shift. As such it takes the best aspects of past computer architectures and matches them with a more robust Internet and significant advances in computer networking tools.

The result is that cloud users benefit from environments that offer the latest, feature rich software applications, a network infrastructure interconnecting users, and the right amount of storage to manage the increasing volumes of data that businesses are generating. What’s more, now businesses can benefit from on-demand provisioning of these features and functionality as well as the ability to scale them up or down based on the needs of the business — referred to as “elastic capacity”. In cloud you truly pay for what you need without the waste.

Austerity Built-In

Cloud environments are popular with IT departments who are now able to manage hardware and software needs from a centralised location and can ‘order up’ more of anything as needed. It is also gaining converts among CFOs who appreciate how the subscription model enables them to pay on a monthly basis and therefore avoid large up-front (capital) expenses.

When one thinks back on the naval gazing that must have taken place within IT departments about what software was needed and by whom and precisely how much storage capacity would be consumed per user, department or office you start to realise how much guesswork was involved and — potentially — how much money has been wasted over the last 20 years.

The fact is that even the savviest of businesses didn’t know then and cannot predict today what their specific needs will be. It’s all the more reason to consider how your business might be better served by having the very best information technology, whilst making savings to spread around the rest of your business.