Last week I had the privilege of speaking at a TechUK event in Newcastle, England, hosted by the Federation for Small Business and the Local Enterprise Partnership at Newcastle College.
The topic of conversation was Cloud Adoption for Small and Medium businesses, and although it was an early start with the promise of bacon sandwiches, we had a good attendance.
The theme of my twenty-minute talk was that customers (large and small) are facing a fork in the road: do they continue to buy IT equipment within their own offices and computing facilities, as they have done since the dawn of IT; or do they start to embrace cloud services, albeit in a small way to start? And where do they start?
I explained what cloud computing was. You, as a business owner or employee, want to achieve a business outcome – sales force automation, email, do your expenses, manage your staff, store your documents – and, really, you don’t care how that happens. You just want to know that it is affordable, it will work when you need it, and you are confident that your data will be safe. In just the same way as you plug your kettle into the wall socket, and want to be able to boil the water any time you need it, but don’t really think how or where the electricity is being produced.
Up until recently, business owners would work with their IT staff to source an expense management system, for example, which would require computers, storage, networking, feeding and watering. Nowadays, that can just be accessed through a website, on a pay per user per month basis. That’s Cloud.
As some cynics might say – it’s just someone else’s computer! And to a certain extent it is, but with bells on.
I’ve been working in this area of IT since before it was called Cloud. So, what are customers using the cloud for, what examples have I encountered?
- Backup to the Cloud – instead of maintaining on-premises tape or disk archives which need to be refreshed every 3-5 years, they are backing up to cloud archive repositories.
- Offload of old, often untouched data that needs to be retained for long periods due to compliance. I saw a survey that said that 80% of data stored on expensive enterprise storage arrays hadn’t been touched in over six months. Why not move it out to the cloud, and leave a tiny pointer on the storage array?
- Email and collaboration. Rather than run that yourself, many businesses are moving to hosted email, or to Office 365 or Gmail.
- Data Centre migration. As businesses outgrow their ‘data cupboards’, many want to simply move their equipment (usually virtualized) into the cloud – lock, stock and barrel. Even large companies and public sector organisations want to completely get out of on-premises IT equipment. For most, it’s not their core business, but they still require the services that are delivered.
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery. For many industries, the need to demonstrate that they could survive a major IT outage in the event of a natural or unforeseen disaster of another making is becoming a statutory requirement. Whether it is natural disaster such as earthquake, hurricane, flood, fire or your outsource partner going bust – businesses need to have and be able to demonstrate that capability.
- Big Data and Analytics. To stay competitive, businesses are finding new ways to better understand their customers’ needs and behaviours through analytics. The flexibility of cloud computing, where you can flex up and down as you need it can pay dividends. Massive amounts of computing resource can be used for just a few hours to analyse a data set, and then be dismissed.
- Software as a Service (SaaS). Many applications that used to take months to implement on-premises, with large IT infrastructures, can now be purchased on a pay-per-user-per-month basis through web browsers and smart phone apps. For example, iland does not run any applications ourselves, rather using sales force automation, document management, expenses, time keeping, to name a few, as SaaS services.
So, customers are starting to embrace cloud – but they’re not putting all their eggs in one basket. Indeed, industry analysts and trade associations alike advise organisations to be vendor-diverse. If you’re running your production services with one cloud vendor, make sure your backup or DR services are running with another. Similarly, while some services may be running with the hyper-scale vendors such as Microsoft, Amazon or Google, it makes sense to also work with smaller vendors. The mightier they are, the harder they fall when they have some technical issues!
So, to summarise:
- Customers are embracing cloud services, putting their toe in the water, or sometimes taking great leaps of faith.
- Low risk initial options include Backup, Disaster Recovery and Cloud-hosted applications (Infrastructure as a Service).
- The flexibility of cloud services, and cost models, especially burst pricing, allow a low-risk entry point before moving to stable month to month Opex.