When ‘cloud computing’ first emerged as a buzz word around five years ago, it was written off by some as a passing craze without any real substance. Today, industry analyst Gartner lists cloud computing as one of the four main forces transforming the IT landscape.
The term ‘cloud’ covers a range of different hosted platforms and services. Its many benefits include an ability to store vast amounts of data and supply the very latest editions of software applications, often with real-time updates, accompanied by lower costs and greater convenience, flexibility and scalability.
Rapidly growing firms, international firms or those with an increasingly mobile workforce are examples of the kind of firms that stand to gain from centrally hosted information and applications. Customers pay only for what they use, and are free to expand or contract capacity to suit demand.
Not surprisingly, many organisations are looking to abandon their traditional, in-house, hardware-based systems to migrate to a cloud set-up. Across the UK, rooms full of servers tended by a team of IT professionals are giving way to virtualised, hosted IT environments, where people across the business can draw down applications and information as required.
The new possibilities opening up represent a huge opportunity for both growth and savings. However, for many businesses an element of reluctance remains, some of it justified.
As an intangible entity, the concept of the ‘cloud’ can be a puzzling one for people to understand. Concerns around security remain. For example, cloud storage can mean your data is downloaded onto a physical disc or server and moved around among and alongside other organisations’ data.
Often you have no idea where it is at any moment in time or even under which country’s data protection legislation it falls. What would you do if your cloud provider went out of business or suffered from a Denial of Service or other cyber-attack? How about a power cut? What measures are in place to prevent data corruption, or to recover data that has been corrupted?
These are all legitimate questions – but fortunately ones that can be addressed easily by reputable cloud service providers.
One of the main benefits of a maturing technology is that the less ethical upstarts have been and gone, replaced by respected service providers who can deliver secure, reliable and accountable services.
A further challenge that many firms face is how to transfer operations to the cloud while they are tied to their legacy IT infrastructures. Although hosting has been around for a while, the integration between the two, with a gradual migration to a fully public cloud hosted-solution over time, is probably one of the greatest IT headaches facing IT departments today.
Cloud service providers are working closely with firms to introduce and demonstrate the benefits of Cloud-hosted systems. One way in which they are doing this is to help firms build small-scale, internal clouds. These help to establish the business case and can be used to demonstrate the concept to senior executives.
According to Gartner, businesses are already spending around $3.6 trillion on IT today and in the next three to five years, it is predicted that a large proportion of that budget will be spent on cloud computing.
An excellent example of what can be achieved through cloud computing is the company Netflix. An early adopter of Amazon Web Services, Netflix started in 1999 as a two-man-band operation streaming video. Within 10 years, Netflix went from being a small start-up to a global force. Amazon Web Services and other cloud providers only charge for the services used, which is ideal for smaller firms with limited cash flow.
A reluctance to embrace the cloud can reflect a fear of the unknown: what system should be adopted and how can it best be integrated into the business? With a growing awareness of the benefits of cloud adoption and an increasing number of end-to-end service providers, there has never been a better time to get started.