Monday, March 14, 2016

Be Not Afraid of This Cloud

We've talked here about the Cloud before and it's likely that we'll be talking about it again. Whether you're ready for it or not, no other advance in business computing has had this big an effect since the dawn of the Internet in business.

So if you want to get ahead of the curve, and be ready for a technology that empowers your business, this is a good time to talk about it. We talked earlier about the what the cloud really is. It's most certainly more than just a decision about whether you'll put your business documents on Google Docs, or store your backups on Dropbox servers. Those are just the leaky edges of a trend that will engulf IT strategies for at least a decade.

Here's how to think about the cloud...

The most important principle to keep in mind when thinking about Cloud computing is this.

It's a strategy that allows a business to implement and operate a data center without purchasing hardware or staffing additional systems administrators.

It's no surprise that the startup sector has embraced the Cloud with enthusiasm. When a business is founded to bring an innovative idea to the market, an investment in expensive hardware and staffing is a barrier to launch. But consider the alternative scenario.

A business is created around an innovative idea. With a modest commitment to Cloud resources, the idea can be presented in the marketplace swiftly for a limited number of customers. After refinement of the idea, IT resources can be readily expanded with less than a phone call, and more customers served as the demand increases.

That's great for startups, but what about for established businesses? To understand that, let's look at some important questions you might answer about your business:

  • Do you have a strategy for having an offsite backup of your records in the event of disaster?
  • Do you have a strategy that can respond quickly to a sudden dramatic increase in business?
  • You may have backups of your data, but can your business tolerate interruption while the backup is restored?
  • Are there any business opportunities your IT infrastructure might offer but that are out of reach because of expense?
  • Does your staff spend a noticeable amount of time applying software updates, backing up data, or trying to locate original software keys and installation media?
Even if you're satisfied with your current answers to some of these questions, you may discover that there's a more efficient or cost effective way to deal with the related business needs.

Let's look at two scenarios that illustrate some of what's become possible with the emergence of Cloud IT services.

First, consider the task of provisioning software for a new hire.

One client for whom I recently worked had a routine to deal with a new employee or consultant. When someone new came onboard, he would obtain a new seat license for the office productivity software (ie. documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and calendar), and install the applications on the new machine. The expected time to handle this was a few hours, though to be fair it was possible to interleave the effort with other tasks.

Another client used a Cloud service to provision for new workers. The process involved simply adding a new account with the correct permissions, and giving the credentials to the new hire. The expected level of effort was a few moments, and it could be done while standing at the new person's desk or cube.

Now consider the strategy required to prepare for storm load demand on sales or inquiries.

One recent client of mine wanted to gear up to handle inquires expected to occur from a national ad campaign. Because they were in a business sector where the fashion is to insist upon in-house IT infrastructure, they provisioned two new expensive server racks designed to handle all of the possible demand. When the campaign launched, they were fortunate that they'd guessed high enough so as not to exceed 70% of available capacity. What seemed like a sensible decision that avoided disaster, also resulted in leaving 30% of the resource idle at the peak time, and over 50% idle under ordinary conditions.

In contrast, another client who needed to account for varying demand depending upon time of day chose to use AWS Cloud services to provision a video delivery system. By using elastic provisioning that responded to anticipated demand, it was possible to dynamically bring enough servers online when demand increased, and release them when demand would fall. This company paid just enough for their needs throughout the day, never leaving more than 20% of their capacity idle.

There are myriad other illustrations of what this new approach will offer business. The best advice we can offer is this.

Watch carefully to see what current or currently unsatisfied needs facing your business can be solved by a Cloud business system or infrastructure. Consider that even if you aren't sure about it, your competitors are looking to see how it can benefit them.

Definitely let us know here if you have questions or success stories about Cloud computing. We're certain to be writing more about it again soon.