When weighing a leap to “the cloud,” business leaders and IT managers are typically enchanted by the convenience, flexibility, and speed this nearly ubiquitous model of digital data storage offers. In today’s environment, the need for workers and teams to collaborate in real-time while scattered throughout the globe has only fueled the long-growing demand for cloud-based ERP systems. According to Gartner, the end-user spending on public cloud services will hit $396 billion by the end of 2021 and swell to $482 billion in 2022, a nearly 22% increase. Furthermore, the public cloud currently accounts for less than 17% of all enterprise IT expenditures, but that figure is forecast to exceed 45% in 2026. Clearly, the cloud isn’t fading from the horizon any time soon.
To what do we owe the explosive popularity of the cloud? Four main points of attraction have enticed IT decision-makers to convert to cloud-based computing systems: flexibility/scalability, a perceived reduction in overall costs, ease of workflow and collaboration, and most of all, mightier data protection and security. But it’s not always clear skies ahead when an organization chooses to take flight and migrate their applications and data from physical, in-house data centers. If your business is prepared to ride out the turbulence of digital disruption and ascend to the cloud, read on for some of the most important factors to consider prior to lift off.
First, let’s talk about the primary benefits of the cloud:
Scalability and Flexibility
The cloud offers compatibility and operational support for a variety of devices and applications. Because the on-premise model often calls for additional equipment and data center space to meet the demands of a growing business, they had to forecast their future IT needs and plan infrastructure budgets accordingly. Unfortunately, this can lead to overprovisioning and wasted resources. However, the cloud’s scalability allows an organization to promptly and seamlessly add or reduce services. In addition, DaaS (Desktop as a Service) providers often enable their clients to pay weekly or even hourly. Whereas the on-premise IT model was akin to investing in and capitalizing on real estate, cloud IT solutions are consumed as a utility, such as gas or electricity, and the client is billed for what they use. This pay-as-you-go arrangement offers versatility and freedom that’s absent from the on-premise model.
A cloud-operating business can leverage hardware and products that would typically exceed the IT budget of an organization running on-premise systems. There’s little economic sense behind heavily investing in the purchase and management of on-site equipment when a cloud provider can offer a comparable suite of services at a fraction of the price and customer commitment. With the cloud, businesses can harness the power of high-performance workstations, hard drives, software, and GPUs or enjoy having vast amounts of data storage available while bypassing the headache of owning and maintaining the physical equipment.
Workflow Improvement and Ease of Collaboration
The cloud can provide a more streamlined workflow when authorized employees can access files and resources anytime and anywhere. In addition, the process of sharing and co-authoring documents across the cloud while ensuring every employee is using the same version of software lends itself to a smoother and much more collaborative environment, especially for teams spread across disparate geographies and time zones. Also, an organization’s in-house IT team won’t be as occupied with troubleshooting complex hardware issues, especially when the cloud provider’s technical support may be rapidly engaged and deployed.
Security and Data Safety
Security and data safety has become a crucial issue for organizations across all industries. Companies that have fallen victim to hackers and seen their customers’ sensitive data leaked or stolen in ransomware attacks consequently suffered the loss of revenue and negative publicity. For organizations entrusted with particularly delicate data, the fallout from a breach can be catastrophic. Cloud providers typically eclipse the cybersecurity that businesses could provide on their own by filling their ranks with security experts intercepting and guarding against hacks. Furthermore, data on the cloud is protected from physical destruction, as most cloud vendors store duplicate backups of their clients’ data in geographically distinct centers.
But operating from the cloud isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Businesses often neglect to ask crucial questions about what they’re seeking from a cloud migration and whether moving to the cloud is feasible. A cloud move is not always appropriate for the nature of the business or conducive to existing resources and infrastructure. Hastily made decisions can be the seeds of unforeseen costs in an organization. A recent survey of 350 cloud decision-makers commissioned by Virtana in November 2020 found that 72% of respondents had to bring their applications back to earth (or on-premises) following a public cloud migration, a symptom of poor planning and misaligned objectives. Here are some questions to consider:
- What exactly are you seeking from your cloud conversion? Whether it’s file sharing, software as a service (SaaS), data storage, improved security, or backup and recovery options, there’s much that the cloud can offer. Still, it pays to clearly define and share your goals with your internal team and your service provider. Establish clear expectations on price, maintenance, and scalability, and seek the advisement of your vendor when determining what workloads are appropriate to move to the cloud. Some workloads are better excluded from the cloud transition and should stay on-premises.
- Are your workloads ready for the cloud? More specifically, can your existing network handle the bandwidth demands of working from the cloud? The cloud operating model can significantly strain the speed and dependability of an organization’s internet infrastructure, leading to loss of productivity and unanticipated spikes in latency. Organizations often fall for the “lift and shift” mentality, rushing to relocate all applications to the cloud with the expectation it will automatically improve speed and accessibility. Furthermore, It’s essential to assess access control, authentication, data loads, latency susceptibility, and the overall interdependencies between applications and systems. Maintaining near real-time data access for users of applications crucial to business functions is a must!
- Could a hybrid solution be a better fit? Cloud migration doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” scenario. For example, some businesses choose to move specific workloads, like web and content hosting, software development, and database solutions to the cloud, while keeping sensitive workloads like engineering and technical functions, unstructured data analysis, and all mission-critical applications in an on-premise environment. A clear advantage to the hybrid approach is that a business’s past technology investments won’t necessarily be wasted; companies can operate their custom proprietary applications on-premises while employing a variety of Software as a Service (Saas) applications in the public cloud.According to the tenth annual Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report, a global survey of 750 cloud decision-makers and users found that 80 percent run a hybrid cloud strategy, while 92 percent operate in multi-cloud architecture. Multi-cloud is distinct from hybrid in that the multi-cloud approach distributes workloads across a mix of several independent cloud providers. For example, an organization might operate AWS for customer data storage while concurrently using Microsoft Azure for website development, with no interaction between the systems.
- Who do I go with? Today, there’s an abundance of cloud providers for every imaginable need, but zeroing in on the ideal vendor can be a daunting task. When sizing up a potential provider, there’s a host of questions that need to be answered:
- How reliable is the network?
- What’s the frequency and history of outages?
- What’s the process for extracting and repatriating our data if we terminate the relationship?
- How long would that take?
- What’s the scalability of the cloud provider’s infrastructure?
- Can they adapt to rapid unforeseen changes in our business structure?
- Most importantly, what happens if data is leaked, lost, or corrupted, and what processes are currently in place to mitigate that risk?
These are crucial matters that could resurface with a vengeance if they’re not tackled from the start. Major cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) have proven track records of reliability, security, and operational consistency.
Vendors essentially become ingrained in the company fabric, and their product quality will directly affect your brand reputation. Rather than a transactional relationship, a cloud vendor should act as a partner fully invested in your success and aligned with your goals and objectives. When embarking on a cloud transformation, consider joining forces with an accredited cloud-oriented consultancy to advise senior management and internal IT staff.
Before a plane is cleared for take-off, it’s imperative to take stock of current weather conditions. The same applies to an organization interested in moving its IT operations from the ground to the cloud. For a business looking to modernize and adapt to an increasingly “remote-based” world, the cloud can offer so much, but one must not overlook the current climate in their own IT environment. As a partner of AWS, we at Oxford are here to help you navigate your journey to the cloud and bring you exactly where you need to be.