The proliferation of cloud technology has seen significant change in the IT landscape within many businesses. The flexibility that cloud-hosted software and services and storage can afford such organisations improve the way they do business in these lean times.
However, there are still many challenges for those looking to sell the 'server-less' office. Many common misconceptions and unfounded fears exist.
As cloud infrastructure becomes more available and easier to use, many are switching to cloud-based business applications, data storage, platforms-as-a-service (PaaS) and SaaS options. These may include cloud-based CRM, ERP, accounting, e-commerce, or supply chain management functions, to name but a few.
Accessing cloud-based platforms and software eliminates the requirement for on-site storage -- an office server -- and the associated support and maintenance costs. Any faults with the software are solved off-site and downtime is minimal. Equally, data is stored securely and businesses need no longer worry that a technical failure such as a server explosion may damage their valuable data.
The fallibilities of the backup tape, VPNs, patches, upgrades, maintenance, disk space, memory and uninterruptable power supplies are also made a distant memory in the cloud.
Increasingly, firms are incorporating add-on applications, allowing them to integrate all manner of business functions via cloud. These functions are often accessed by different staff in their relevant departments. Cloud computing makes huge sense in these situations, as the required applications can be accessed by the staff via permission-based access such as passwords.
This has a double-edged efficiency saving for businesses. First, cloud-based software and services are more cost-effective as the company pays only for its actual software use, as opposed to a company purchasing 30 licences, which are then not all used, or used enough, to justify the cost. Adds, moves and changes may also be simplified, enabling easy scaling up and down where required.
However, many remain unprepared to commit their precious business data, processes and applications to cloud-based infrastructure. The intangible nature of the cloud and the fact that data is stored off-site can appear worrying to many businesses.
For example, business applications that physically store data abroad, in the US, for example, can prove a sticking point for some potential customers. Businesses may be understandably reluctant to entrust their data across borders, especially in the US, which they might believe to be a target for hacking, despite the provider having all manner of incorporated security and backup offerings.
But think about how the vast majority of internet users entrust their data to externally hosted platforms including Facebook, internet banking, Hotmail and Gmail on a daily basis, and such misgivings about the cloud seem nonsensical.
Perhaps part of the psychological barrier to cloud hosting is the concept of the cloud itself, when even the name lends itself to the notion of a somewhat ethereal entity.
Oracle’s Larry Ellison voiced his concerns about the perception of the cloud back in 2009 at Silicon Valley business and technology forum the Churchill Club. He pointed out - rightly, in my view - that the cloud does not actually exist, and would be better thought of as simply computers in a network.
The commonly held image of the cloud is actually putting businesses off using it. Ellison was also reported as saying that by comparing the cloud business model to rental (PaaS or SaaS) and disregarding the “cloud” concept - or just thinking of it as a currently fashionable term that has replaced SaaS - the myth around the cloud’s existence (or not), would be eliminated.
I have to agree. I do advocate the demystification of cloud technology. There will always be those who are early adopters as opposed to the laggards, but when there are so many strategic business benefits to be gained for those businesses using the cloud, it is key that this demystification is accelerated.
It is also vital that businesses lose their negative, unfounded perceptions of cloud technology and focus instead on the myriad efficiency savings it can offer.
Andrew Peddie is managing director of First Hosted
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