Many IT managers are not sold on the cloud just yet. But here’s some ammo for making your argument to the CEO on why it’s a good idea.
It seems like IT spent a good percentage of the aughts (a.k.a. the 2000s) getting its arms around server consolidation and virtualization. The advent of 64-bit computing let us shatter the 4GB memory barrier and we could dispense with those rows upon rows of low utilization servers in favor of a virtualized, rack-mounted multiprocessor machine that ran dozens of virtual PCs on one piece of physical hardware.
Well, if the aughts were the first wave of consolidation, this decade will be the second decade, where we consolidate the hardware right out of that chilled room. Some IT shops are looking at getting rid of their IT services completely and moving everything to general cloud service providers like IBM, Amazon, Microsoft, and CSC, or to hosted services for specialized needs such as software development (among which Mendix, we like to think, would be a contender).
Some businesses can’t consider cloud computing due to regulatory concerns; medical professionals, for example. Other firms, though, want to move lock, stock, and RDBMs to the cloud as fast as they can.
Other companies aren’t so quick to jump. There are still some businesses scared of the cloud, much of it stemming from concerns about security, and one survey may hold the answer why. According to a study by (ISC)2 and the Cloud Security Alliance, 89% of the global workforce community currently lack understanding of the ways security protection applies to the cloud.
A survey of small businesses (SMBs) conducted by comScore and commissioned by Microsoft found security was the number one deterrent for SMBs in moving to the cloud. Yet when they embraced the cloud, the security payoff was enormous: 94% of SMBs that subscribe to cloud services said the cloud gave them security features they didn’t have pre-cloud while around 50% also say cloud gives them better security. Similar research spells the same perceptions for enterprise organizations.
So the perception doesn’t match the reality. If you’re responsible for a proposed move to cloud computing (in any of its guises), how do you make the pitch? Here’s some ammo in making that pitch on why you should move your apps to the cloud.
1. It frees up capex
The financial argument for the cloud is multifaceted, as Bernard Golden notes in a CIO magazine article. It’s simple enough: capex, or capital expenditures, vs. opex, or operating expenses. Moving to the cloud means you don’t have to make investments in servers, expensive software licenses, service contracts, air conditioning to cool the data center, and every other expense related to keeping the boxes running.
Of course, your business must weigh the costs of a cloud move versus what you would spend on your own data center, because you don’t want to end up spending more than if you just bought the thing. However, most cloud service providers are not that expensive.
Capex fall onto the balance sheet of a company and have to be amortized over time, such as for the life of the hardware. By replacing your on-premises systems with cloud systems, it becomes an operating expense, held against each quarter’s operating expenses. In a time of financial hardship, you should have some flexibility in terms of reducing your cloud services to reduce opex and save some money.
2. Rapid deployment means software is in users’ hands sooner
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defined cloud computing in a paper published in 2011 that said, “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
Suppose your business wants to expand in China. You’ve got an opportunity to grow real fast if you can get up and running quickly. Opening the office is easy enough, but deploying systems takes time. You have to go through procurement, bidding, getting the hardware, deployment, testing…
Or you could just rent space in a local co-location facility and move your apps to that hardware in a few minutes. Microsoft will sell you its Windows-based virtualized services on Azure, while another vendor would offer bare metal, non-virtualized hardware.
The big players are all growing internationally. Singapore is making an enormous push to be the data center location of Asia. Every cloud vendor you can think of has built or announced plans to build new or expand existing centers in the tiny island nation. Singapore is putting its own money on the table, building the Data Centre Park, set to open this year with 1.3 million square feet of hardware space.
China isn’t the only example, of course. You could never build your own data center faster or as fast as you could simply rent space at a local provider; it’s as simple as that. Major cloud providers know this is a global economy and are making sure that they are available anywhere in the world business is done.
3. Rapid scalability helps the IT department adjust to need
You are in a highly seasonal market that has bursts of activity; let’s say tax preparation. Come January, you know all hell will break loose until April 15. So the prior September, you spend hundreds of thousands on server systems to give you the capacity you need for Q1. Then come May, you have a lot of very expensive hardware sitting around drinking electricity.
This is where the cloud saves your bacon – twice. First, you rent the capacity you need from an Amazon (which launched EC2 and AWS because it had a similar situation of too much hardware for seasonality that sat around idle) or other vendor; then when the seasonality is over, you can cancel or cut down on the services you are renting.
4. Geographic flexibility is a boon
There is a town in Alaska right on the edge of Prudhoe Bay called Deadhorse. The town’s name comes from any one of a bunch of morbid jokes; like, if you rode a horse to that town, by the time you got there, the horse would be dead. The town is perched at the very top of Alaska by the North Slope, where all the oil drilling is taking place; it was featured for a few seasons on the TV show, Ice Road Truckers. Its temporary population can reach 3,000 people. Its permanent population? About 50.
Now, if you are an oil and gas company looking to do exploration, do you really want to set up a data center in a town whose motto is, “All that far and no bar?” No of course not. You do your exploration and send the data back to the cloud (assuming you can get an Internet connection up there) to do the crunching.
This applies to many other businesses that don’t want to or can’t afford to set up a data center at every location: retail, manufacturing, branches outlets/offices, agencies, etc.
5. Data storage is safe
This is one of the harder arguments to make. People think they can better secure the data if it’s in their possession. And yet keystroke loggers are the most common form of individual personal information theft.
Cloud computing providers must provide three layers of security: physical, logical, and methodology. Physical security means data centers built with solid security, 24/7 security staff, locked facilities, and solid buildings. Many of these places are like Fort Knox. Logical security includes firewalls, malware, and intrusion detection systems.
Methodology as a whole includes locking certain staff out of certain areas. Everything uses the highest levels of security and encryption, including the top certification, FIPS-140, plus AES-256, DES, RSA, TDES, SHA-1, SHA-224 to SHA-512. Heck, even Dropbox uses AES-256 encryption. Are you using that to store your local data? How much of your hiring budget do you want to spend on the very best, the tippy-top security experts, when a cloud vendor has the expertise in-house?
6. Whether SMB or enterprise, the same rules apply
It doesn’t matter if you are a start-up of 20 people or an enterprise of 10,000 employees; the same rules apply. The cloud lets you save resources on hardware and IT personnel, get needed services deployed faster, spare you having to set up new systems in remote locations, and keep your data safe. The smallest business and the largest corporation become the same when they move to the cloud.