Is the cloud right for my business?

The cloud is a revolutionary computing paradigm that has completely transformed the way we do business – not least by generating significant efficiencies across the board for organizations large and small.

Taking software and data out of local premises and placing them within a secure global network of remote servers, the cloud operates as a single ecosystem to help manage and maintain digital infrastructure. Underpinned by third-party operation, it enables 24/7 access to data whilst eliminating unnecessary expenses and downtime.

The chances are, your firm is already tapping into a handful of applications hosted on the cloud – from social media sites and email platforms, to productivity suites offered by industry giants such as Google and Microsoft.

And with an endless selection of options to deploy resources – from the public, community, and private, through to hybrid models – organizations of varying scopes and sizes can benefit from a complete computing overhaul.

However, while the benefits of using cloud-based services over outdated, in-house IT models are clear – reliability, scalability, efficiency, and security, to name just a few – this doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for every company.

So, to help inform your decision and formulate the most successful strategy for your organization, here are some of the key things to consider when determining the suitability of cloud computing…

Cost

While the cloud offers a significant range of cost efficiencies – through the elimination of redundant technology and labor requirements, lower power costs, and reduced carbon footprint – it’s important to evaluate the price of switching infrastructure.

Capital expenditure (CapEx) and operational expenditure (OpEx) should be key considerations when weighing up your options – as the financial differences will influence the option you choose.

For most businesses, a pay-as-you-go OpEx plan is an obvious choice, helping to keep financial forecasts stable and predictable, while offering the flexibility to cancel or modify a plan at any given moment, and freeing up internal resources to focus on driving value for your organization.

However, if companies prefer to take control of cloud services – including costs and maintenance – and generate long-term revenue by improving production facilities and boosting operational efficiency, a private cloud might be a more suitable option.

Growth and demand

By design, the cloud model of computing is able to provide deployment on demand. That’s why, if your business is experiencing significant growth and existing infrastructure is rendered insufficient, it can be an excellent solution to implement.

Where planning, implementing, and deploying new resources in your office or data center can take many months, the flexibility available in the public cloud means it can be easily scaled up or down as required. The same goes when considering the demand. If there is a pressing need for more servers and storage space to help tackle a larger workload, a scalable cloud allows you to add nodes swiftly, rather than having to overhaul your entire infrastructure. And, once the demand has reduced, you can easily revert to the previous configuration.

Security and compliance

With the increasing sophistication of cyber-attacks, maintaining a strong cloud security posture is key if your organization is to house highly sensitive business information and intellectual property online – especially if your industry is highly regulated. Luckily, most private and hybrid infrastructures support compliance, but scrutinizing this area to ensure your company’s needs are met is crucial.

The off-site nature of cloud storage, in which data is hosted in a separate location from your business, automatically reduces some risks – including the removal of USB sticks or forwarding of login details – but there are some other key elements to look out for in your security strategy. These include:

Encryption – a way of scrambling data so that only authorized parties can understand and access the information unless they discover the decryption key.

Security – whether using on-premise firewalls, virtual cloud firewalls, or full-blown managed SD WAN, you need to have a holistic approach to security across the entire network – especially if that network is contained within a hybrid-cloud environment. Whether using on-premise, public, or private cloud, security is a major consideration and needs to be designed thoroughly.

Identity and access management – products that manage user authorization based on who they are and what they do, to help prevent account takeover and insider attacks.

Collaboration and flexibility

Cloud-hosted platforms enable users a greater degree of flexibility, by allowing them to access files anytime, anywhere. It doesn’t matter if your teams are working remotely or in the office, on a laptop or a tablet – as long as each device is connected to the internet, important files can be accessed and updated conveniently.

But that’s not all, cloud-based software suites like Office 365 also unlock contemporary ways of working by empowering creative collaboration. With the ability to share documents both internally and externally, co-author in real-time, and attend meetings virtually, cloud computing not only creates a shared understanding across your organization but crucially bolsters the team dynamic and encourages fresh ideas to fruition. But don’t just innovate for innovation’s sake – if your teams are successfully collaborating without needing cloud intervention, don’t feel like you have to make a change.

While the technology industry has become a burgeoning powerhouse in recent years – offering an ever-increasing myriad of benefits to businesses from SMEs through to corporate enterprises – there can often be mounting pressure to conform.

And while growth often brings an unavoidable need to adapt in some form or another, change can be significantly different from one organization to the next.

By John Blackburn, Central Networks’ operations director.

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