Getting started with cloud computing

18th Sep 2012 | 08:00

Getting started with cloud computing

Moving your business to the next level with cloud computing

The last thing business owners want to spend their hard-earned revenues on is IT equipment, software, desks, and office space that sits empty for most of the day. The answer is to move to cloud computing.

Most businesses are set up to achieve one thing and that's to sell their products and services, and to make a profit doing so. However, to achieve this single aim, businesses need to also invest in lots of non-core products and services, like hardware and software and renting office space that's largely unused.

A 2011 survey by management consultants Advanced Workplace Associates, found that – on average – desk space is occupied just 49% of the time, with some workspaces being occupied for as little as 27% of the time.

The advantages of cloud computing

Ideally, as a business, you want to get on with the important core tasks without having to spend any more money than is absolutely necessary on non-core tasks. Unfortunately, what happens is instead you spend most of your time and money on doing things like worrying about how you'll find the money to replace the email server in six months' time, backing up the accounts systems, or what effect the next upgrade to your office software will have on your business productivity. The solution to the problem is to create a cloud-based business.

By adopting cloud technologies, you can take away all of the normal overheads associated with your non-core processes and, at the same time, reduce your current overheads from hardware and software maintenance, power, upgrade costs, cooling, and manpower costs.

With a virtual company, you no longer need to buy or upgrade your hardware or software, or have any of the worries that what you have just bought is going to be redundant in a few days/weeks/months time. Additionally, all your new systems will scale up – and down – you only pay for what you use, and there are no unexpected capital expenditure costs.

Using cloud-based applications also means you can use all of your systems from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection. Which means that you no longer need to rent quite so much office space, as your workforce can be just as effective on the road or at home.

What you need to know before moving to the cloud

Just as you would assess your computing needs in any business, moving to the cloud requires the same sort of planning. Before moving to cloud you need to consider the answer to a few basic fundamental questions such as;

  • Will you need a cloud provider that offers a lot of flexibility?
  • What are your performance and availability expectations?
  • Does the service have to be 24/7/365 or can you afford to have some service down-time?
  • Will you need additional support and services?
  • what is your potential exit route?

Until you can answer these questions in detail it's inadvisable to move to the cloud. One of the key disadvantages with cloud is the lack of any real standards between providers. The conventional software world has developed numerous different ways to transfer data between applications, however there's precious little in the cloud environment. So if you do decided a year down the line that you can't work with your provider it may prove very difficult and expensive to change to another provider, or move out of the cloud.

Aside from a lack of standards, doubts over security is the other main reason given by most business who are unsure about taking up cloud computing. Many businesses may not like the fact that their data is held outside of the country, and additionally certain types of data are also not allowed to be kept outside of the UK due to restrictions outlined in the Data Protection Act.

However for most businesses the security offered by a cloud business is often vastly superior to the security available on their own internal systems, with data being stored with government or enterprise-class levels of security, and backed up and maintained by security and network experts that your own business would have difficulty attracting or affording, if you were to attempt to do it yourself.

Test and build

The beauty of the cloud is that you're not investing vast amounts of time or money in trying the solution out, and many cloud providers allow you 30-day or limited function versions of their service, allowing you to see the product working in parallel before committing to a full-scale implementation.

Before you start a trial, you should look at how you're going to measure its effectiveness, and part of that work should be to look at how you currently measure the effectiveness of the solution it's replacing, so you can judge like for like. Ideally, you should then trial cloud applications on a small department or on a project team before opening it up to the rest of the business if it's successful.

Like everything else in business, you're only going to get the most out of it if you go into it with the right attitude. If you're just moving to the cloud because everyone else is, then expect to fail.

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