The “Cloud” – Hype vs. Reality

Deciding if and when to leverage "the cloud" is a critical decision for most businesses. This post examines the pros and cons of "the cloud" and when it might be a good solution for your business.

Everywhere you look people are talking about “the cloud”.  The term is used so generally that whenever someone mentions the cloud, the first question to be asked is: “How do you define “the cloud”?”.  The term “cloud” is used to mean anything from application hosting services provided by companies like RackSpace, Amazon, and Google, to software-as-a-service offerings such as SalesForce.Com.  We won’t even get into the entire discussion of public and private clouds!

The difficult part of the entire cloud discussion is figuring out whether or not is it a good solution for your company.  Although the cloud has some advantages for consumers, there are quite a few more complexities to determining whether the cloud is ready for use by an enterprise/company.

Pros of the cloud

  • Most cloud offerings use the latest technology – if your company cannot afford to upgrade technology, then under the right circumstances, the cloud could provide an alternative.
  • Rapid scalability – since cloud offerings are architected to be a standard, shared environment, it is easy to add and remove capacity when needed.
  • Shared or restricted option – most providers allow their customers to choose between shared services (where multiple customers share the same physical devices) and restricted services (where a customer has dedicated devices for their use only).

Cons of the cloud

  • Privacy and Security – very careful consideration must be given to any usage of the cloud for data or processes that interact with private or company sensitive information.  Any organization covered by regulations such as PCI, HIPPA, or SOX should utilize the cloud with caution.
  • Monitoring/transparency – many organizations today are striving for increased monitoring and transparency in their operations.  By using the cloud the IT organization is one step removed from the actual operations of their systems.
  • Performance – many cloud service providers will site statistics of their availability, but performance is just as important.  If a service is available but running slow it will not support your business requirements.

Leveraging the potential benefit of the cloud can be a strategic investment for your company.  There are a few things an enterprise could easily host in the cloud:

1)   Publicly available information – most information that is for use by the general public would be a good choice.  An example is a customer support site containing a searchable knowledgebase or list of frequently asked questions.

2)   Properly secured development and testing environments – by hosting these environments in the cloud a company can avoid having to invest in infrastructure for new projects.  If appropriately cleaned test data can be utilized, then the cloud could be a way to develop new systems without disrupting the current production environment or support processes.

3)  Peak processing power – companies can use the cloud to provide additional processing power during peak loads.  This could be a nightly process or a seasonal processing need.  By acquiring the additional processing power with the “as needed” capability the cloud allows, companies can avoid a capital investment.

If you decide to proceed with using the cloud for your company remember to manage them as you would any third party service provider or outsourcer.  There is no magic to the cloud and it must be managed and controlled to benefit your company.

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