Cloud computing offers significant benefits to enterprises, and many are starting to factor it into their long-term planning. First, however, they need to understand the pros and cons of cloud—and how to make the move.
“Cloud offers enterprises the benefits of reduced capital expenditure and staff requirements combined with scalability and quick deployment—something that’s hugely important in today’s fast-moving business environment,” says Shaheen Kalla, Managed Services Manager at ContinuitySA. “Cloud services coupled with service-level agreements and fixed penalties make it a viable alternative to internal hosting.”
Kalla was speaking at a webinar which formed part of ContinuitySA’s contribution to the annual Business Continuity Awareness Week, which took place between 18 and 22 March around the world.
However, there are disadvantages to cloud that also need consideration, among them reliance on the provider for troubleshooting and security concerns about sensitive data. It must also be borne in mind that cloud providers are natural targets for hackers.
In moving to the cloud model, Mr Kalla argued that enterprises should consider a three-phased approach. The first stage is co-location or rack hosting, a model in which hardware moves to an offsite data centre. Drivers for such a move would include the size of the current environment, and its requirements for power and other peripheral services such as cooling and humidity control. If the organisation plans to expand, co-location would possibly be indicated, especially if, for example, one is reaching the limit of the power available on the site.
The next stage would be managed services, with the hardware continuing to be owned but the services delivered by a third party. This model is particularly well suited to Web-based “thin” applications, and suits companies that want to benefit from the maximum amount of depreciation from recently purchased assets. Service-level agreements govern this type of environment.
The final stage is the move to the cloud, a move, Mr Kalla says, that requires a mature and long-term outlook. “It’s a totally hand’s-off environment which might not please technical staff who typically like control. Moving to this model warrants an in-depth assessment of the service provider and its levels of security and responsiveness.”
Key things to look out for include close reading of the fine print to understand exactly what the service-level agreement covers and does not cover, and how and when penalties kick in. “It’s also vital to consider the implications of where the service provider’s data centres are located,” Mr Kalla says. “If located outside of the country, this will affect the latency and so the user experience on certain applications. Location will also affect what you are paying for the link to the centre, and will in turn affect the costs of migrating to cloud.”
Location is also critical for certain industries such as financial services—data privacy regulations specify where sensitive client data can be kept.
In general, it is very important to look at how data will be returned to you in the event of the contract ending or there is a breach of contract or the provider goes out of business.
“The most important thing to consider is the user experience. Without their buy-in, the migration will be a failure,” says Mr Kalla. “I advise clients to run a proof of concept with a small user group to see whether the experience is acceptable.”