It’s no secret that the adoption rate of cloud is massive. Recent research found that more than ninety per cent of companies admit using some cloud services – and according to IT insiders, the rest might be kidding themselves.
Today’s employees are more tech savvy than ever, which can be a blessing and a curse. Staff outside the IT department are increasingly likely to acquire cloud applications and introduce them into the business environment.
This could be simply a matter of convenience – where’s the harm in grabbing that specialist software without bothering the guys in IT, right? After all, they’re busy and it only takes a few clicks. Perhaps even more commonly, people bringing their own devices – tablets and smartphones – may use their own cloud applications for work purposes.
On the plus side, this is linked to productivity benefits. Staff tend to work well when they use technology they feel comfortable with. They often require less support, which can be good news for the IT team.
The downside – and it is a big one – is that the company has limited visibility of its data, and precious little control. When Bob in accounts and Jane in admin use their own applications to make their jobs easier, they are unlikely to realise they are exposing the business to increased risk.
If cloud applications are not set up correctly, the result can be gaping holes in security. For example, staff could unwittingly share documents and folders with anyone in the world, without even basic password protection.
For all the hazards, putting data in the cloud can make a lot of sense. You get to use enterprise level hardware and facilities, without bearing massive up-front costs. Economy of scale means this level of quality is realistic for businesses with limited equipment and staffing budgets. Scalability is another real drawcard, too. With most businesses now facing global competition, the ability to quickly turn great ideas into reality can be the difference between market leader and also-ran.
One of the most attractive cloud benefits is data replication across multiple sites, or even multiple countries, without massive costs or headaches. It might not sound exciting to anyone outside the IT department, but it is one of the most common driving forces behind cloud transitions. Who doesn’t want to save time and money while getting someone else to take on repetitive daily tasks?
The really big cloud motivator, for those managing budgets at least, is the pay-as-you-go nature of cloud. Avoiding big capital expenses in favour of predictable monthly costs makes accountants happy. It doesn’t hurt that IT expenses can be more easily assigned to relevant departments or locations either, making it simple to identify the most cost-effective business areas.
Data centres and cloud services are generally very reliable, and will almost always outdo the reliability of a local server. That said, there have been some very public outages and data loss that illustrate the need to exercise caution.
Cloud is not for every organisation, or for every application. Those making the most successful transitions conduct a thorough audit of workloads, examining interdependencies and analysing cost. This is a specialised, in-depth process that is worth getting right. Moving the wrong workloads to the cloud can raise costs, lower performance and choke productivity.
Another critical element of any winning cloud strategy is finding the right provider – which means reading the fine print very carefully. It is important to know where your data resides, and who owns it. If it is located offshore, it will be governed by another jurisdiction. If you’re keen to avoid potential legal wrangles in a country with completely different laws, it is worth seeking out cloud providers that can guarantee on-shore data centres. For some industries, keeping data in the same jurisdiction is necessary for compliance reasons, while others limit the type of cloud services that can be used.
Finally, make sure you understand the fees. As with most things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Cloud providers often promote a cost per megabyte, but other fees like usage can be unpredictable enough to blow out your budget.
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