Cloud computing sounds compelling, but deployments often bog down in details and internal politics. The key to making the most of cloud computing is to recognise the breadth of solutions it offers but choose just those options that meet immediate business needs.
Defining The Cloud
Ask a room full of IT-savvy folks what the cloud is and it's a fair bet that you'll hear a number of different definitions. Like the shapeless bodies of water vapour floating above us, it's impossible to come up with a single answer that captures every shape or type of cloud.
When it comes to the cloud we think that there are two broad categories of cloud services: software and infrastructure. What makes cloud services different to traditional outsourcing arrangements is its flexibility. Cloud services are delivered as a pay as you need service.
For example, say you decide to use a cloud service for your business's customer relationship management (CRM) system. When you start out with the new system you have seven staff that use the system and 100 customers. After a few months, you expand to 12 staff and your CRM now holds data for 300 potential and current clients. The system has expanded to meet your needs without you needing to think about managing the hardware or application.
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A year later, you decide to run a month-long marketing campaign so you add a group of ten temporary staff. With a cloud service you can "purchase" the extra software licenses you need, run the campaign and then return the licenses. With traditional software you'd either have to negotiate with the vendor or buy the extra licenses. Cloud services make it relatively easy to expand and contract when compared to traditional technology deployment models.
A trap for business users is that they see popular consumer cloud services and think that they will fit into their business. We'd suggest a cautious approach. Most consumer cloud services are delivered on an "all care, no responsibility" basis with no guaranteed level of service. It may be worth looking at a paid service that offers a service level agreement, as it's unlikely your business can afford to lose access to data or systems.
The Four Clouds And Why You Would Use Them
Earlier, we divided cloud services into two groups. But another way to divide them based on what they deliver to your business.
The public software cloud can be best described as the "one size fits most" option. The public software cloud delivers basic utility services like email, file storage and other functions that are so generic that choosing one solution over another is really a matter of personal taste. Some of the more popular public software cloud applications that are available are tools like Gmail and Dropbox. All your data sits on systems and hardware that are shared with potentially millions of other users.
The public hosted cloud uses public infrastructure like storage and servers that you can deploy your own applications on. In some cases, the service providers deliver turnkey solutions for specific needs. For example, if you need a server running Microsoft Exchange you can have that provisioned for you. No one else will be using that instance of Exchange. Although the application and database are specific to you and not shared, the hardware the applications are running on is shared. A couple of the more popular public hosted clouds are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.
The private hosted cloud enables flexible business delivery within a completely private environment. That means it's your software running on your hardware. Nothing is shared with anyone else. What makes this the cloud and not an outsourced data centre is the nature of the applications. They are made to be remotely accessed rather than used on a local network.
Finally, you can simply roll your own business infrastructure, taking the best of each. You might use the public software for your email system, public hosted cloud for document management and the private hosted cloud for your finance system.
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