What is the cloud?
The obvious first point to address in any article about cloud computing is also the simplest: what is ‘the cloud’? Using the term ‘the cloud’ in a computing sense refers to servers that are accessed from any location worldwide via the internet, and the software, databases, and information stored on those servers.
Nowadays, there are Cloud servers located in data centres all over the world. By storing your company’s data and/or files in the cloud, you do not have to manage physical servers yourself or run software applications from your own machines.
Data stored on the cloud is available to you no matter what physical computing device you’re using – so the days of a file being on one particular person’s pc, and thereby inaccessible if they go off work sick, for example, are over.
This is why you can login to your Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc from any device and find all your information still in place: the data servers are in the cloud, not in any physical device.
The phrase ‘the cloud’ started off as tech industry slang, and has found its way into mainstream use since those early days of the internet. In those days, technical diagrams often represented the servers and networking infrastructure that make up the Internet as an actual image of a cloud. As more computing processes moved across to this servers-and-infrastructure part of the Internet, and as the usage got more frequent, people spoke about using or moving to “the cloud” as a shorthand way of expressing where the computing processes were taking place. Hence today, “the cloud” is the only accepted terminology for this style of computing.
What are the benefits?
For businesses, migrating to cloud services removes some considerable IT costs and overheads: for instance, they don’t need to update or maintain their own servers, as the cloud company they are using does that. This especially makes an impact for small businesses that may not have been able to afford their own internal infrastructure, but can outsource their infrastructure needs affordably by renting space at a larger company in the cloud.
Businesses no longer have to worry about the cost of increasing capacity on their own servers and storage, as most cloud companies offer packages with plenty of room to grow built into them as part of the migration process.
The cloud can also make it easier for companies to operate internationally, because employees and customers can access the same files and applications from any location. As mentioned above, a colleague being on holiday or off sick no longer becomes a crisis: the business can operate smoothly because access is shared – usually in a business sense at an agreed level by passwords, for example giving Directors higher level of access than an Apprentice.
All of this doesn’t change how the internet works, it just changes how the data for everything and everyone is stored and accessed. The Internet has always been made up of servers, clients, and the infrastructure that connects them: and that’s still true today with the advent of the cloud. Clients make requests of servers, servers send responses….the difference in the cloud is that cloud servers aren’t just responding to requests any more, they’re also running complex programs and storing previously unthought-of amounts of data on the client’s behalf, performing much more complex functions than ever needed before, all at a fraction of the cost of providing your own in-house storage capacity.
Moving to the cloud shouldn’t be seen as a challenge, but rather a long term opportunity to make existing business processes more agile, responsive, and innovative. There are many big steps to be taken, and potentially many challenges along the way.
What are the challenges of migrating to the Cloud?
.The main migration challenges for businesses to overcome – and the main mistakes made by businesses when they fail to properly plan and prepare in these areas, are: –
- Lacking a clear strategy determined by business objectives
- Cloud sprawl caused by not having a clear understanding of the full scope of cloud environments
- Exceeding the planned budget
- Security weak points and failures of critical services
- Human error and a lack of skills required to operate the new infrastructure
Lacking a clear strategy
The most common mistake that can prevent your company from fully realising the benefits of the cloud technology is by not having either a clear business objective for the move, or a properly thought-out migration plan.
Building your strategy first ensures that you can easily navigate the transition to external cloud storage, and avoid any problems during the later stages. This is especially important for all businesses to realise as there are a wide variety of choices along the way, starting from whether your business opts for private, public, or hybrid cloud infrastructure, to choosing between Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) models. There’s a great blog here from Russell Haworth, former CEO of Nominet and Digital Thought Leader, all about SaaS if you’re keen to find out more.
Proper planning of each phase of the migration from the start, gives you time and space to make the right choices to arrive at your target and helps you avoid the obvious spending – or rather, overspending – pitfalls that most companies fall into.
Cloud sprawl is another common migration issue: your organisation cannot gain complete centralised visibility and control of all its cloud infrastructure components because you’ve spread things too far and wide.
If your organisation is juggling multiple cloud based instances, services, or sometimes even providers, it’s not possible to have full accountability of the resources in use. Trying to find a holistic all-in-one provider will make this much less likely, and will make your business life much easier in the future.
Try to avoid this by conducting an IT function audit before the migration. Think about what you currently have and need, and how that will change and develop in the future, then plan accordingly.
If you can then maintain this clear vision of your present and future business model during each phase of the cloud migration, you will be able to design and implement a much better service and avoid some of the cost pitfalls.
Cloud sprawl and poor planning often leads directly to exceeding your initial budget. To keep your cloud spending in check, having that plan for your business couldn’t be more important..
The actual cost of the cloud migration project should be assessed and measured too: by measuring your costs and performance on an ongoing basis, and comparing against the ROI of your cloud migration, you’ll be able to determine – in pounds and pence – just how successful your migration project was.
Security points to consider
Security concerns must also be addressed. To avoid security weak points or downtime during the move, make sure that you have somebody with experience in cloud security to advise you, or that the cloud hosting company you choose can fulfil that function for you.
Security measures should really include all of the following:
- Setting security configuration parameters in cloud instances
- Automating security processes
- Building continuous monitoring systems
Most companies will not have an in-house person who can advise them sufficiently on these issues, so be sure to do your research first and then interrogate your potential cloud companies at the very early stages of your migration journey.
Train your employees
One of the most often cited cloud migration failures is neither costs nor security issues, but lack of training for the company’s employees.
It seems strange to go to all this trouble to miss this step out, and yet several very big companies have failed to inform their staff or proper;y plan for staff training.
Your staff members need to be on the same page and to have the right skills, knowledge, and understanding to operate and perform their daily functions within the new infrastructure. Depending on the size of your company, you may want to address this by team or individual training sessions, but do make sure you plan for this properly.
The advantages quite clearly outweigh the disadvantages but, like all things in business, you must plan it properly, move slowly until you’re sure that you have organised everything, and choose the right partner (cloud hosting company) for your endeavours.