All the time we hear the word “Cloud” used in IT, perhaps slightly over-used. It’s quite funny how many people think they need to “move to the Cloud” without fully understanding what it means. Often I have to correct people or explain what it means for them as Cloud Computing can mean different things to different people.
To strip it back to basics, I believe Cloud Computing centres on business continuity, an adaptable and scalable technology for organisations of varying sizes.
Cloud for SME
For small businesses, Cloud it can be a fantastic technology that comes with a fairly low price tag, allowing small organisations to obtain the same technology as the larger ones. For example, if you are a start-up business, you may not have the money to splash out on a £5000 small business server, along with the added requirement for IT support on server technology. With products such as Microsoft Office 365, services such as Exchange can be quickly deployed for a very low monthly cost. A lot of small start-up businesses may even use Cloud based CRM solutions such as Zoho or Sales Force, meaning they don’t actually require an expensive server sat in their offices.
I find the main thing to consider about your IT that stays at your office / premises is data. Once you have secured email and bespoke 3rd party apps in the Cloud, you still need to consider your data and how that is backed up. Some people still have a small “file server” in the office, effectively a machine with storage that the users save files to centrally. However this central data store still needs to be backed up. This is where some products such as drop-box come into their own, being able to back your documents up to the Cloud, view them from other devices, synchronise with your other computers and users (shared folders), all without actually requiring a central “file server” at all. This means that users can work from anywhere and still have the files / services they need to perform their daily duties.
Effectively, Cloud for SME, depending on what 3rd party apps you are using, could be achieved without the need for a server. There is an argument that the combined monthly cost of the Cloud services could be similar to financing the cost of a server, but then you still have the IT support element to contend with. SMEs with no server and only Cloud based products are less likely to need lots of support or proactive maintenance as the servers that the 3rd party apps sit on are maintained by the vendors.
So that just leaves the remaining network and the users. In my opinion, there will always be a need for IT support as things do go wrong and users always need help to setup and configure certain things, it’s just that the things that are support may evolve.
Cloud for Enterprise
Cloud for larger companies can mean more than just not having a server. In fact larger companies using Cloud services now usually have a hybrid model. For example they may have a powerful SQL database driven application that requires on premise servers whether virtual or not, and then have several other key services hosted with 3rd parties such as Microsoft (Office 365). This model is similar to the SME one, however it’s just on a larger scale.
We then move into a different Cloud scenario and this can be a slightly different play on the word “Cloud”. When we talk about Office 365 for example, this is what is known as Public Cloud because the servers are made available for different users and companies, sharing resources. The other way of doing it is by creating your own Private Cloud. This method creates an infrastructure that has all the benefits of a public Cloud such as continuity, DR, security etc. but it’s only designed and implemented for your organisation. Effectively this means you purchase hardware and host it in a hosting centre dedicated to you, only allowing access by your organisation.
With a large businesses there are always multiple sites, meaning the Private Cloud offers the perfect central location to host the servers and security devices that protect your network. When using hosting centres / data centres, you get the added benefit of diverse internet links, diesel generator backup power and multi-tier security / personnel access. Once implemented here you have a reliable central infrastructure that is protected.
Some other hybrid models include a hosting centre as the primary location for the infrastructure, and then choose one or more satellite offices as a backup / DR target. This gives you an additional layer of protection in the event are very large scale disaster would render the data centre useless (e.g. Central London incident).
In my experience designing and implementing these types of Cloud solutions, it’s always much more in depth and revolves around RPOs and RTOs that the client will agree to or feels is acceptable. Even with the different hybrid models, the technology is very similar, using VMware to virtualise servers across multiple hosts & SANs, even solutions such as Metro Storage Clusters can be achieved using a hybrid Cloud model.
I’ve personally been involved in multiple projects of this level and it’s really opened my eyes to what people refer to as “the Cloud”, ultimately it can mean different things but the idea around it is the same, Cloud will nearly always offer you a more reliable service, it’s just knowing when it’s appropriate to do so, which is why people like me still get involved from the concept stage.