All men may have been created equal, but not all clouds are

Cloud computing has dominated the IT agenda of late and is set to continue with the recent introduction of Apple’s iCloud and similar consumer services to the market. But for business leaders it can be hard to associate with mass-market clouds and not enterprise-specific clouds.

So what? Surely the issues that affect mass-market clouds affect enterprise clouds too? Well, the answer is yes and no – but most importantly, not knowing the differences between the two can cost organisations money and cause much hassle.

Most mass market clouds are built to meet the needs of the consumer. Therefore it is generally less robust, has a lower availability guarantee and average strength security. For example, the SLA in a mass-market cloud usually provides an availability zone, meaning that you cannot rely on the availability of your data. However, mass-market cloud is very cheap and in some cases, like Dropbox, even free.

An enterprise cloud, as you would expect, is designed for businesses, so SLAs for availability are much higher, security is better, and much greater compatibility with business software is on offer. It is obviously more expensive than mass-market cloud, but this is because it provides much more.

Many businesses start out by just using the cloud for web hosting and sometimes find that for static, non-transactional websites a mass-market service provides everything they need. But as these businesses become more comfortable with the cloud, they often want to reap some of the other benefits of it. They place business applications in the cloud.

These may need much higher availability and have specific data protection requirements that the mass-market cloud may not meet. In addition, business applications sometimes have add-ons or bespoke coding that do not sit well with the architecture of a cloud service designed to host photos, music and video files and basic documents.

On the other hand, enterprise cloud is designed to work with enterprise-grade IT systems, which means it is more resilient and compatible with a wider range of IT components. Enterprise cloud is never going to be as inexpensive as mass-market cloud, but in the long-run for many businesses it is more cost effective.

This isn’t to say that organisations should automatically rule out mass-market cloud services. Mass-market cloud can and is being used to host business applications, but companies must consider what they will be hosting and the importance of the information that will be hosted. Additionally, the software needs to be designed to take into account the inherent limitations of mass-market cloud.

I anticipate a sharp rise in demand for enterprise cloud over the next few years as businesses become more educated on the cloud options available to them and spend more time considering how they might use the cloud today and into the future. Equally, demand for mass-market cloud services is only going to increase as more and more individuals become aware of the benefits of the cloud, and some businesses will end up taking that route.

The key to making the right decision for your company when outsourcing to the cloud lies in remembering that there is a lot more choice in the cloud market than you might think from reading the news. Companies that have just looked at mass market services and decided that the cloud is not for them should reconsider.

In reality, the cloud market is rapidly changing, highly differentiated and very competitive with services to meet all sorts of business requirements. Companies should keep a close eye on the evolution of cloud services and not shy away from testing different services to ensure they are making the right choice.

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Michel Robert is an expert in business development and marketing with particular expertise in the IT solutions sector. He has worked in senior roles across Europe and the US and has more than seven years’ experience in the IT industry. Before joining Claranet UK, Michel was the Solution Director at Dimension Data, a global IT services and solution provider. Michel was responsible for the business development and marketing of Dimension Data’s technology solutions portfolio across Europe, and had particular success in growing the company’s presence in the UK. Michel has also worked in senior consulting and marketing positions for Forward in London (now part of WPP Group), a contract publishing company specialising in direct customer communications, and The Rouse Company, a North American property development company. Michel joined Claranet UK as Managing Director in July 2007, where he uses his experience to drive the development of Claranet's business IT services and solutions offering in the UK.