Everyone is talking about the cloud these days. The internet is rife with articles about the benefits of moving to the cloud and applications that will solve all the logistical and technological challenges that come with that move. Marketing in the tech industry seems focused on claiming that the cloud is the panacea for every IT struggle a company may experience. And while it is true that the cloud offers many benefits and is full of potential to address the technological needs of many types of organizations, moving to the cloud should happen thoughtfully and cautiously. The decision to move your applications, services and infrastructure to the cloud should be made only when you truly understand your organization’s technological needs and completely understand how your current IT environment operates. So while the cloud is certainly a valuable and useful tool, it isn’t always a cure-all. Let’s look at four things that should not be the sole driver for moving to the cloud.
1. To save money.
Cost savings is probably one of the biggest misconceptions of moving to the cloud, and where many organizations get in trouble when doing so. An organization must fully understand its IT needs before deciding to move to the cloud. Do you know your systems’ dependencies? How much processing power you need for your applications? How much data your organization stores? How much bandwidth your data center currently uses? Do you have special regulations that may prohibit you from co-locating your services in the cloud? If you don’t know the answers to questions like these, then you may not realize the costs associated with moving to the cloud.
The pricing structures offered by cloud providers are detailed and complex. For example, if you decide to move your infrastructure to the cloud, you may be charged for not only the processing and memory of the virtual machines you build, but for the storage you use, the bandwidth that you use, and so on. If you are not familiar with your current IT environment, you may run into some unexpected costs that negate the benefits of moving to the cloud. It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a good handle on your current environment before moving to the cloud.
2. To improve security
Cloud providers are responsible only for securing their environments up to the service level they are providing and generally cannot protect your applications 100% even if you are using software as a service (SaaS), which is the highest level that a provider can give. If your organization is lacking in IT security, the cloud is not going to help. For example, let’s use the very basic scenario of using personal storage in the cloud, like Box or Dropbox. These providers will do everything they can to ensure that their infrastructure and applications are secure from their side of the cloud, but if your organization doesn’t patch the operating systems your computers use to access these services, or hasn’t adopted strong password practices, then your data in cloud can still be comprised through your organization’s own IT infrastructure.
If you decide to employ Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in the cloud, then your security needs will be the same as your own physical data center. When using IaaS, the cloud provider’s only responsibility is to ensure their underlying infrastructure is secure; if your infrastructure’s security is lacking it will make no difference if you move to the cloud or remain in your own data center.
Finally, your options may be limited if your data is covered under regulatory stipulations. For example, certain government research that must be NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) compliant can only use certain cloud providers. In the end, your organization will always be solely responsible for the protection of its data and should never use the cloud as a substitute for a strong, secure IT environment and policy.
3. To increase reliability
Although the cloud can provide benefits when it comes to reliability, if your organization already struggles with a reliable IT environment, chances are the issue won’t be resolved by moving to the cloud. If not designed properly, your cloud environment may be just as unstable as your on-premise environment. Before proceeding, take inventory: What are your current issues with reliability and what is it in the cloud that will address those issues? Furthermore, you will need to take into consideration how you are going to use the cloud. Although most cloud providers have globally diverse data centers, you need to be able to design your cloud implementation to take advantage of this. This is especially true with IaaS. If you build your entire data center in one provider’s region you may still have reliability issues, but if you decide to go with multiple regions you may have additional costs and requirements to make your cloud-based datacenter fault-tolerant.
4. To eliminate the need for an IT department
In the 21st century, every company is an “IT” company regardless of its size or the product or service provided. Ask yourself: Can my company run without computers, email, phones, etc.? It is a simple fact of life in today’s world that technology intertwines with everything an organization needs to operate. Therefore, there is going to always be a need for an IT person or department in any organization — even if you must outsource your IT to a third party, you are still employing the services of an IT professional. This is also true when it comes to moving to the cloud since the first thing you will need is a person who is skilled in setting up and migrating to your cloud environment. Since cloud services is still relatively new for many IT professionals, you may have to spend money on training personnel or contracting with a third party to do the move. Furthermore, you’ll need trained personnel to operate and maintain your cloud.
The cloud has a great deal of potential and is an excellent platform for many applications and services. It is a game-changer under the right circumstances, e.g., a company trying to provide global services in a manner more economical than running its own global network of data centers. The cloud makes it easier for organizations to provide services their customers can access anywhere and at any time. It allows for better agility when it comes to deployment of infrastructure, and the elasticity of the cloud makes it easier for an organization to adjust the size of its infrastructure according to its immediate needs. It can do amazing things — just be sure you are moving there for the right reasons and with the right plan.