Moving to the Cloud? Address these four issues first
Considering a cloud move? Don’t ignore the big issues: Take a hard look at IT readiness, security, provider contracts and costs to maximize cloud potential.
Enterprises are choosing the cloud. Small and midsize businesses are flipping the switch and even federal government agencies — historically the last to adopt new technologies — are making the move. According to Tech Crunch, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently signed a $109 million deal to shift from local stacks to cloud services.
Yet moving to the cloud comes with complications, and companies can find their surefire investment under performing if they move too much, too soon — here are four critical issues to consider:
Does your staff have the knowledge and expertise to manage a move to the cloud, or do you need to outsource?
Often, businesses prefer to rely on existing staff who are familiar with legacy systems and internal hardware lifecycles, but this can be problematic. As noted by Data Center Knowledge, highly specialized IT professionals — such as SAN engineers — must “adopt strategic thinking and have a focus on business-centered innovation.” According to CBR, meanwhile, the role of tech-focused C-suite executives such as CISOs is also undergoing rapid transition into areas of long-term strategic planning and cost/benefit analysis. While leveraging in-house talent to manage a cloud move is certainly possible, it requires patience, training and time; IT professionals and C-suite execs must be given leeway to explore multiple options and discover the ideal cloud fit.
Another choice is outsourcing part or all of a cloud move. One option here is finding a full-service cloud broken and migration firm that will work alongside existing IT staff to determine which in-house applications should make the cloud move and which are better left on legacy servers, along with recommending new cloud-based apps. Alternatively, companies can take advantage of outsourcing CSOs or CISOs, who effectively fill this executive gap but without the ongoing costs of a full-time employee. Another advantage? Expert outsiders are often able to suggest multiple courses of action that fall outside typical business practices without rocking the corporate boat — their status as third-party providers can help defray organizational politicking.
The next big challenge in a cloud move? Security. As noted by Wired, 30 percent of IT decision makers say security is their biggest pain point in any cloud migration. Security has long been the focus of cloud detractors: How do you keep information safe when it’s stored on multiple servers across a handful of locations?
There are several answers. First, businesses must curate what they send to the cloud and what they keep close to the chest. For example, highly confidential data such as intellectual property (IP) documents or consumers’ credit card data is better stored on site than in the cloud. Data needed to enhance basic customer service processes or improve communication across business silos, meanwhile, is an ideal fit for cloud environments. Companies also need to look for providers able to offer robust encryption solutions — for example “zero knowledge” scenarios, in which only authorized personnel in your company have access to decryption keys. With cloud providers storing but unable to access your data, it becomes impossible to accidentally breach security or yield data control to outside agencies, such as government watchdogs or compliance regulators, without your consent.
Before signing any cloud contract, it’s worth asking a few important questions about what happens when the agreement comes to an end. For example, what happens to your data if you choose a new provider, or if your current provider suddenly goes bankrupt? Is data stored in such a way that it’s easily transferable to a new cloud environment, or has the cloud vendor used a proprietary method to transition your apps and services to the cloud?
It’s also important to ask about service guarantees. Many providers offer specified amounts of “uptime” in their service level agreements (SLAs) — 99.99 percent or “four nines” is a popular example — but what happens if the provider doesn’t meet these goals? In some cases, refunds or discounts are the agreed-upon penalty, but read the fine print; what conditions must be met for these clauses to become active? Does the provider have a certain amount of time to remedy the issue or offer alternative compensation?
Cost and Opportunity
No discussion of cloud migration is complete without mentioning cost: Is the move a net positive or negative for companies? According to Computer World, in fact, “many organizations are slow to adopt cloud computing due to confusion around the financial impact of its implementation and management.” The biggest issue stems from a CapEx/OpEx divide. While moving to the cloud significantly reduces CapEx spend, there’s a long-term OpEx increase, leading some companies to conclude the move isn’t worthwhile.
In fact, cloud services offer a number of financial benefits. First is a kind of “cost agility;” if IT demand decreases, spending can quickly be scaled back. Plus, with more cash in hand, it is possible for CIOs to make needed hardware investments without breaking yearly budgets. Last but not least? With less time spent searching for the right service or app since everything is cloud based, employees enjoy increased productivity, in turn driving greater profit.