November 2012

Moving to the Cloud

Moving to the Cloud: Pros and Cons

By: Marie-Claude Veillette,

Cloud computing is a term on everyone’s lips these days. The concept can be described as a way to access your computer remotely via the Internet to store, manage, and process data. Businesses big and small that are looking for cloud-based services are searching for a solution that could help them reduce their software and other computing costs. Arguments often cited in favor of the cloud are that cloud-based business applications are easy to use, eliminate backup worries, require no maintenance and allow users to access files from anywhere with internet access rather than relying on being able to connect to local computer or servers.

Although these arguments are convincing, many companies continue to rely on their in-house technology services while cloud computing moves from hype to reality. Some business decision-makers have cold feet about internet-based services because of concerns over security and privacy, and these are certainly the top barriers for getting started and working in the cloud, especially in government and healthcare sectors where privacy and security are extremely important.

However, many business owners who are afraid of cloud computing do not quite understand that their data can be protected in the cloud and that the gains in functionality and efficiency could give them important financial and competitive advantages. They also often do not realize that today’s cloud computing offers an array of deployment models. They have a choice between adopting community cloud solutions or taking a public, private or “hybrid approach.”

Differences between Public, Private, Hybrid and Community Cloud

Private, public, hybrid, or community, the goals of cloud computing remain the same: Providing easy and scalable access to computing resources and IT services.

Public cloud: As its name indicates, a public cloud sells services to anyone. Applications and data are stored on shared servers at a third-party provider that supply cloud solutions for many clients. The customer has no control over where the computing infrastructure is hosted. Although this option offers cost savings and guarantees a high level of flexibility and initial speed of deployment, several companies are not comfortable with the idea of having sensitive data stored on servers shared with other customers.

Private cloud: A private cloud is an infrastructure dedicated solely to one organization and not shared with other organizations. This solution can be managed by the organization or a third-party on site or off-site and is designed to offer the same benefits of public cloud computing while addressing most of the concerns that using a public cloud may rise such as data protection and security.

Hybrid cloud: A Hybrid cloud, also referred to as cloud bursting, is composed of both private and public clouds. Although both entities operate in independent way, they are bound together in order to enable data and application portability. An organization may for example host sensitive data on private cloud and less critical applications on public cloud.  This kind of structure offers both the advantages of public and private cloud, but it is more complex to operate.

Community cloud: A community cloud is a computing infrastructure shared by several organizations. This type of cloud computing is popular within government organizations, health care and defense that have to exchange data among themselves through secure channels.

The Benefits of Private vs. Public and Hybrid

When looking at which cloud approach to adopt, it is important to consider the company structure, security and privacy concerns, as well as the environment, requirements, policies and standards.

A private cloud (also called an Internal Cloud or Enterprise Cloud) offers virtual computing services deployed over a company’s private intranet or hosted datacenter. That type of infrastructure leaves companies in control but also means they shoulder the management overhead. Whereas public cloud resources can be scaled instantly, a private cloud requires hardware and software upgrades to be purchased and installed on-site. A private cloud could be a smart choice for enterprise and government organizations looking to reap the benefits of cloud computing without compromising critical security policies or overall system flexibility.

Public cloud services relieve companies of the management burden, but at the expense of some visibility and control over access to the underlying infrastructure. Benefits of a public cloud are the reduced complexity in software, hardware, and administration, and the lack of delays and expense associated with developing in-house applications. A public cloud could be a smart choice for consumers, start-ups, and small and midsized companies looking for low upfront cost and practically infinite scalability.  Cloud computing providers’ offers SMBs access to more sophisticated technology at lower prices and reduces the cost of licensing software and buying servers.

A hybrid strategy, which incorporates both off-site and on-site services, might be the best approach to obtaining the best of both worlds. With a hybrid cloud, companies provide and manage some resources in-house and have others provided externally. Administrators can customize rules and policies that govern areas such as access and security, as well as the underlying infrastructure. They take advantage of the scalability and profitability that a public cloud offers without exposing sensitive data. A hybrid cloud could be a smart choice for business decision-makers who don’t feel secure about having all their applications and data stored on shared servers.

Why Go Up There?

There are many factors driving organizations towards the cloud, but here are 3 most often cited reasons: lower costs, scalability and productivity.

  • Cloud computing can save businesses money. The cloud offers pay-per-use pricing without long term contracts. Rather than paying for software licenses and hardware equipment you might access only occasionally, you pay only for the services you use, and the service is fully managed by the provider. Moving your business to the cloud also reduces the need for an IT staff.
  • Cloud computing makes businesses more agile. With greater flexibility, lower infrastructure and lower operation costs, the cloud allows businesses to implement applications faster, and add capacity on demand. As your business grows, you can accommodate by adding more server space.
  • Cloud computing raises employees’ productivity. Since services in the cloud can be accessed anytime from anywhere, it becomes easier to connect with colleagues and remote clients.  Cloud computing increases employees’ productivity by giving them more mobility and flexibility through the ability to access documents and e-mails by logging in from an Internet-connected computer or mobile device.

Before making the decision of moving their business to the cloud, administrators should weigh the pros and cons of cloud computing in order to choose the best solution. Even though the advantages of moving to the cloud are obvious, it’s important to look at the downsides such as privacy and data mobility and ownership.

Companies should look at the workflows that are currently supported by software (HR, Financial, CRM, ERP, etc.) and make a determination on where they could reside. Criteria such as application availability and security requirements along with cost considerations should ideally dictate where the workflows should be supported; either in the public, private or even community cloud.