March 2014

Published 11th March 2014, written for Alchemy Systems International

Essential questions for when considering a move to the cloud.

Upon reaching the point whereby a hardware refresh is necessary, many of our customers have had to consider whether to maintain an on-premise infrastructure, or take the plunge and migrate their business services and apps to the cloud.

It doesn’t really matter what type or scale of business you run; the principles to be considered are pretty much the same and your considerations shouldn’t just be of a technical nature. Here are a few questions that we recommend our customers ask themselves.

Strategic Questions – Which option will your business benefit from most?

Which option could save you the most money in the long term?

Over time, moving your operations across to a cloud (or hybrid) platform could work out more expensive; having said that, convenience is a major factor to think about, and it isn’t all about cost so don’t let this be a reason not to move. But bear in mind, the cloud offers you lots of operational options that can vastly outweigh these costs.

Which option gives you the greatest operational flexibility?

Cloud options provide you with the flexibility to scale up or down as your business demands. Being as you only pay for the services and applications you use, usually on a per-user, per month basis, you can cut your cloth to suit your needs at any time. The majority of on-premise networks are under-utilised; excess software licences often remain unused, storage arrays are left unfilled, local IT resource is underutilised and single points of failure exist within your environment.  A further option exists, whereby you create a hybrid cloud infrastructure to manage workloads that are pre-disposed to cloud (commoditised, low value items), combined with specific Line of business services and applications that are subject to regulatory compliance, (managed hosted, or on-premise) that run alongside your public cloud (residing with a multi tenant host); the hybrid cloud option helps to free a portion of your IT spend, allowing you to innovate and to focus on other business activities.

Does the cloud offer you new ways of working?       

Choosing to stay with an on-premise infrastructure means that you will (for the most part), continue with the same working patterns and practices: you’ll just be using newer, perhaps more powerful IT hardware that may have some new management features. But, the workplace is being re-invented by a new generation of dynamic, remote or virtual work-teams that will drive new and innovative ways for your company to work and the cloud will help to make this happen.

Financial Questions – Where is the return on your investment? 

Will you benefit by moving from CapEx to OpEx?

Because cloud computing works on a completely different model for funding, it can help your business unlock investments that you could use in other ways that may transform your business. Operational Expenditure (OpEx) has to be maintained every year, but can often be a more convenient way to fund your IT investments. Capital Expenditure (CapEx) will tie up significant amounts of your business’ money at the outset – and we all recognise that cash-flow is vital for every organisation. 

What investments will you need to make in infrastructure and/or upgrades?

Much of the on-premise infrastructure will already be in place, and moving to a cloud platform may well require you to lay out for new devices and comms set ups so that you can access and take advantage of the many cloud services available. But, and this is definitely worth considering, your cloud provider has invested hugely in the most modern, fully service-packed operating systems and databases to deliver you the best performance and security. Smaller business that have moved across to a cloud platform will testify that their IT now competes with that of the “big boys”when it comes to infrastructure quality – can you be so sure of your current internal IT?

Which option is better for your GREEN IT performance?

If the on-premise IT infrastructure your business runs, relies on multiple servers, routers and switches in an air conditioned network data-centre, your energy usage is likely to be high and your energy costs will be too. If you choose to move, your cloud provider will have a dedicated, fully conditioned and cooled server farm that is far more energy and cost efficient. An increasing number of businesses detail their environmental targets within CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) policies; public sector organisations all have GREEN IT obligations and aggressive targets for reducing energy usage, so there is a strong justification (to a wider audience of your stakeholders) for the cloud in these instances.

What are the costs of implementation and migration?

There will be some implementation and migration costs at the outset if you choose to migrate to the cloud; these are dependent on any new processes or applications you decide to take advantage of. Each business is different, making it impossible to place any accurate figure on what these costs could be, but as I’ve mentioned before, the cloud offers so many possibilities for innovating new ways of working, it should well be worth this minor overall investment.

Are there any typical pricing models for the cloud?

Pricing models may vary between providers; many will advertise a monthly subscription fee to cover ALL the services you choose to utilise. Some will look to off-set their initial set up costs by requesting a quarter fees in advance, so you should look for a cloud provider that ONLY charges you per-user, per-month for the services you commit to. Either way, you will still be paying less than for perpetual licences if you maintain an on-premise infrastructure.

Operational Questions

Can you expect a more flexible way of working?

Your upgrades and/or infrastructure refresh programs should always be determined by the demand for improving the way you work and do business. The cloud will definitely offer you many more possibilities for flexible working as your users’ desktops and apps are all accessible from any location and on any device platform; meaning your personnel will no longer be tied to an office or a VPN.

Can either platform allow you to extend your network or outsource part of your operations?

Because you host your business data externally with a cloud infrastructure, you can provide access for third party operators more easily when you need to outsource any non-essential elements of your operation. On-premise infrastructures will require roles-based authentication profiles and security policies to be set up, taking longer and involving greater input from IT resources.

Which platform offers you the most flexible ways to expand or standardise?

If you’re looking to expand your network to incorporate new office locations at any time, you will be limited by the on-premise option, needing new hardware or VPN accesses to the location and new software licences. Cloud is so flexible that you can extend your network geography at any time, (even if only temporarily). High on the priority list for most business owners and COO’s is consistent operational processes across the entire enterprise; heterogeneous on-premise systems often prevent this, whereas cloud IT is a rapid enabler for standardisation.

Technical Questions – What it takes to make the move

What infrastructure investments are required to make the move?

Your cloud provider is hosting your services, apps and data, so there‘s no major hardware investment required on your part but you’ll probably need to procure new devices such as smart-phones, tablets, laptops or even desktops and upgrade your browsers and security plug-ins for fully supported and protected access to all your new services. You may also need to expand your internal comms and firewalls to manage the higher levels of internet traffic you can expect.

Will your data be hosted at an approved location?

Your cloud provider will advise you whether their data-centre complies with relevant governing body mandates concerning your business. This may impede any plans you may have for moving to the cloud, so it is essential that you consider this early on.

Will your users’ devices be supported?

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is an integral part of the reinvention of the workplace; your users may well insist on using their own smart-phone, tablet, laptop etc, so your IT department will need to ensure these fully support the services and apps you require them to use if you stick with on-premise. Cloud infrastructure will almost certainly enable them to be more productive and efficient by using their own devices, but you may need to standardise the OS or browsers to maximise the opportunities.

Questions for vendors– Can you work together 

What about the long-term viability of outsourcing your IT to a cloud provider?

Moving across to a cloud platform is, in effect, a form of IT outsourcing; you need to be fully aware of the long-term viability, suitability and stability of your chosen cloud partner. Consider your long-term business plans and discuss them with cloud suitors, where necessary, to make sure you can establish a suitable, long-term  working relationship.

Are they providing you with a true multi-tenant option?

Only a multi-tenant option will offer you the economies of scale that ensures a cost effective cloud solution. If your cloud provider treats every implementation as bespoke, you may be hit hard with implementation, upgrade and support costs. This may affect the long-term viability of the relationship you have with them.

Will upgrades or service packs affect your operations?

If you continue to run with an on-premise platform, you will be able to manage every aspect of any upgrades or implementations to minimise any disruption to your users; the majority of cloud vendors will implement upgrades or small patches on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis – without notice to you. It is unlikely to be disruptive to you, but it is possible if cloud applications you use do not allow you to be selective about upgrades. Make sure they can provide you with a separate sandbox environment for you to test any updates before they are implemented across your whole business.

Will your new cloud solutions interface with your legacy systems?

Before moving, you should make sure that your cloud applications can interface with any existing legacy systems that you may decide to maintain. The cloud applications with the greatest take up within larger organisations are often standalone, such as email, back-office productivity suites and so on. However, over time cloud to legacy integration will improve.

What about security, backup and disaster recovery?

Does your cloud provider comply with the levels of business continuity and security your company demands? It is usually better and more efficient than most on-premise systems, but it’s a good idea to make sure all of these are being handled directly by your cloud vendor – ask the question and make sure you’re satisfied before making the move to the cloud; after all your data is king!.

Can you rely on the support SLA’s from a cloud provider?

Your internal IT teams maintain and support your on-premise infrastructure, so you need to make sure that if you make the move, your cloud applications receive the same levels of support over the same time zones and in the same languages. Ask whether you can expect support to meet or exceed what is currently provided in-house for your legacy systems.

Provided you are satisfied that your cloud vendor can provide you with all the services, applications, comms, support and multi-tenant economies of scale, you should make IT more flexible, innovative, efficient, cheaper and greener to procure. However, it is essential that you have complete confidence in your vendor and that they will grow and develop in line with your business.

For almost every business, a move to cloud computing offers a win-win situation.

Peter Stephen is a Surrey based freelance creative and marketing copywriter – to hire, call 07917 36 01 01 or email peter.stephen@astutecopy.co.uk

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