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Cloud Computing Trends: Where is the Cloud Headed Next?

Cloud adoption has been quick and painless at the consumer level. For instance, everyone’s on Gmail, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis yet most think nothing of the fact that they’re already using cloud-based services. Small businesses have also discovered how cloud solutions have raised efficiency in the workplace up a notch or two, while also bringing about significant cost savings. Cloud applications, particularly those for communication, file sharing, office software, backup and storage, and customer management, have rapidly grown in usage among SMBs.

In the same manner, large corporations are starting to see the potential of moving some of their IT department, whether its infrastructure or network management, to the cloud. By all indications it would seem that whether we are ready for it or not, cloud computing technology is here for the long haul.

So where is the cloud headed to next? In this post we examine the trends in the world of cloud computing and what likely lies in store in the near future for cloud users.

Focus on Security

Security has always been a key concern in the cloud computing industry and this will not go away anytime soon. If anything, data security in the cloud will only get to be in the limelight even more as cloud adopters grow in number. That’s why we expect professional cloud services providers to start implementing measures that will help slowly build up confidence in cloud security.

We should soon see more advanced security techniques and protocols that would increase the overall level of privacy and protection for cloud-stored information. Tighter security for login encryptions and prevention of unauthorized access are priority although there are a lot more issues that may need to be addressed. Now it remains to be seen whether these moves are enough for corporate clients to put their full trust in the cloud. But then again, they can always find ways to stay secure while making use of cloud computing where they can, which brings us to the next cloud trend.

Hybrid Approach

Large businesses are taking a longer time to get used to and actually use cloud services, and understandably so. After all, these companies have more at stake when it comes to dealing with such valid issues as security, compliance, outages, legacy systems, and more. However, they also cannot ignore the very appealing characteristics of the cloud. For big companies that have substantial IT needs, scalability, business agility, and faster deployment are listed as the biggest draws of the cloud.

This is why analysts predict that as as these businesses look toward leveraging the benefits of the cloud while at the same time maintaining control over mission critical data and systems, the use of a hybrid approach, i.e. putting some services in a public and at the same time opting to utilize a private cloud for other applications, will see enormous growth.

Mobile Cloud Computing

The BYOD or Bring Your Own Device business policy is another emerging trend that would not have been possible if not for cloud technology. This practice involves having employees bring their mobile devices to work, allowing them to access company files, data, and applications from their personally-owned gadgets in and out of the workplace.

As with any new business practice, the concept of BYOD can be both advantageous and disadvantageous. On the one hand, some believe it helps increase employee productivity and lifts their morale, while reducing overall IT costs. On the other hand, BYOD also opens up a whole new set of problems that are quite consistent with what many businesses take issue with with cloud technology: security. Do the pros outweigh the cons or vice versa? This much isn’t clear yet but what is evident is that more cloud apps are going mobile.

Efficiency, Innovation

While cost savings has always been one benefit that cloud proponents are quick to point out, its capability to improve and streamline business processes, thereby increasing efficiency and agility within the organization, is another key opportunity that the cloud offers. This is evident when you take a look at the most commonly used cloud services: backup and archiving, business continuity, collaboration tools, and big data processing.

Moreover, the cloud is making it easier for individuals to create new products and produce new lines of business. With access to higher IT capacity at lesser cost and at faster deployment rates, businesses can scale into more innovation without having to worry about the availability of computing resources.

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Knowing the Caveats in Cloud Computing

Cloud computing has become such a buzzword in business circles today that many organisations both small and large, are quick to jump on the cloud bandwagon – sometimes a little too hastily.

Yes, the benefits of the cloud are numerous: reduced infrastructure costs, improved performance, faster time-to-market, capability to develop more applications, lower IT staff expenses; you get the picture. But contrary to what many may be expecting or have been led to believe, cloud computing is not without its share of drawbacks, especially for smaller organisations who have limited knowledge to go on with.

So before businesses move to the cloud, it pays to learn a little more about the caveats that could meet them along the way. Here are some tips to getting started with cloud computing as a small business consumer.

Know your cloud. As with anything else, knowledge is always key. Because it is a relatively new tool in IT, it’s not surprising that there is some confusion about the term cloud computing among many business owners and even CIOs. According to the document The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing, cloud computing has five essential characteristics, three basic service models (Saas, Paas and Iaas), and four deployment models (public, community, private and hybrid).

The first thing organisations should do is make a review of their operations and evaluate if they really need a cloud service. If they would indeed benefit from cloud computing, the next steps would be deciding on the service model that would best fit the organisation and choosing the right cloud service provider. These factors are particularly important when you consider data security and compliance issues.

Read the fine print. Before entering into a contract with a cloud provider, businesses should first ensure that the responsibilities for both parties are well-defined, and if the cloud vendor has the vital mechanisms in place for contingency measures. For instance, how does the provider intend to carry out backup and data retrieval operations? Is there assurance that the business’ critical data and systems will be accessible at all times? And if not, how soon can the data be available in case of a temporary shutdown of the cloud?

Also, what if either the company or the cloud provider stops operations or goes bankrupt? It should be clear from the get go that the data remains the sole property of the consumer or company subscribing to the cloud.

As you can see, there are various concerns that need to be addressed closely before any agreement is finalised. While these details are usually found in the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) of most outsourcing and servicing contracts, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of cloud contracts.

Be aware of possible unforeseen costs. The ability of smaller companies to avail of computing resources on a scalable, pay-as-you-go model is one of the biggest selling points of cloud computing. But there’s also an inherent risk here: the possibility of runaway costs. Rather than allowing significant cost savings, small businesses could end up with a bill that’s bound to blow a big hole in their budget.

Take for example the case of a software company cited on InformationWeek.com to illustrate this point. The 250-server cluster the company rented from a cloud provider was inadvertently left turned on by the testing team over the weekend. As a result, their usual $2,300 bill ballooned to a whopping $23,400 over the course of one weekend.

Of course, in all likelihood, this isn’t going to happen to every small and midsize enterprise that shifts to the cloud. However, this should alert business owners, finance executives, and CEOs to look beyond the perceived savings and identify potential sources of unexpected costs. What may start as a fixed rate scheme for on-demand computing resources, may end up becoming a complex pricing puzzle as the needs of the business grow, or simply because of human error as the example above shows.

The caveats we’ve listed here are among the most crucial ones that soon-to-be cloud adopters need to keep in mind. But should these be reasons enough for businesses to stop pursuing a cloud strategy? Most definitely not. Armed with the right information, cloud computing is still the fastest and most effective way for many small enterprises to get the business off the ground with the lowest start-up costs.

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The Cloud: Changing the Game for Small Businesses

There is a consensus among cloud experts that the onset of cloud computing will benefit small organisations the most. In fact, many even go as far as saying that the cloud and small businesses are a match made in IT heaven. How much of this is true and how much of this is merely part and parcel of the hype surrounding cloud computing?

The Cloud as the Great Equaliser

If you closely examine the essential characteristics of cloud computing, particularly public cloud services, you will see why small organisations would be very interested in the cloud, and would eventually flock to it, like moths to a flame. And why not? Cloud computing is turning out to be the weapon that can allow small and medium organisations to compete on a more level playing field against large enterprises.

Here are some cloud computing benefits that may just close the gap between the two.

  • Significantly lower IT spending. With little to no investment at all on hardware infrastructure and practically zero maintenance costs, SMBs that would have required substantial capital for IT are now finding it easy to get a business started from scratch or develop and test out new products by using the cloud as the backbone of their IT set-up. The pay-as-you-go pricing scheme that cloud computing offers allows companies to start small and scale up as needed, or when the revenue starts coming in.
  • Higher employee productivity. Licensing fees for software applications can run high even if you don’t have a large staff. Good thing there are now a host of cloud-based office tools – word processors, spreadsheets, presentations, accounting systems, etc. – that can boost employee productivity without the corresponding costs that small businesses can ill afford. Plus, team members in remote locations can continue to collaborate with the rest through any internet-connected device in real time.
  • Easier, better communication. The easy accessibility of communication apps has also changed the way employees interact with fellow employees and more importantly, with customers. Whether through email, instant messaging, or social networks, cloud services have given individuals and businesses more ways of giving and getting feedback. The best thing about it is that most of these services don’t cost much or are even free, giving SMBs ample tools to create better products and improve service.
  • A Look at the Figures Many small businesses are already seeing the potential in the cloud, with SaaS (Software as a Service) applications most commonly used among the early adopters. These services include email and other communication apps, file sharing, and backup.

In a February 2012 Edge Strategies survey (commissioned by Microsoft) of 3,000 small businesses in the US, the following data came to light:

  • The number of small companies with 2 to 10 employees using paid cloud services will triple in the next three years;
  • Current cloud users report purchasing an average of 4 services in the cloud now and expect to use 6 in the future;
  • Fifty percent agree that cloud computing is going to become more important for businesses such as theirs.

Further, a survey of 323 SMBs recently released by social business site Spiceworks and sponsored by EMC reveals that from 48 percent at the start of 2012 and 28 percent a year ago, 62 percent of the businesses surveyed now use some type of cloud app.

What these numbers show is that cloud adoption among small and medium enterprises is starting to gain ground and for sure, more will do the same as understanding and awareness increase. Yes, these businesses should still perform their due diligence as there is no one-size-fits-all cloud solution. But for those companies who have managed to find the right cloud apps and services for their needs, it’s all sunny skies up ahead.

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A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 2

Improves cash flow

The capital investment you put into an on-premise IT infrastructure is normally based on a long-range forecast of what your highest computing demands will be. But what if, as they often do, the estimates turn out to be too high? Then you’ll have to bear with the huge depreciation cost or monthly amortisation of a grossly underutilised asset for the next couple of years.

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A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing

When you run a Google search for the “benefits of cloud computing”, you’ll come across a number of articles with a good list of those. However, most of them don’t go into the details, which nevertheless might still suit some readers. But if you’re looking for compelling business reasons to move your company’s IT to the cloud, a peripheral understanding of what this technology can do for you certainly won’t cut it.

Now, cloud computing is not just one of those “cool” technologies that come along every couple of years and which can only benefit a particular department. What we’re talking about here really is a paradigm shift in computing that can transform not only entire IT infrastructures but also how we run our respective organisations.

I hate to think that some people are holding back on cloud adoption just because they haven’t fully grasped what they’re missing. That is why I decided to put together this list. I wanted to produce a list that would help top management gain a deeper understanding of the benefits of the cloud.

Cloud computing is one bandwagon you really can’t afford not to jump into. Here are ten good reasons why:

1. Zero CAPEX and low TCO for an enterprise-class IT infrastructure

2. Improves cash flow

3. Strengthens business continuity/disaster recovery capabilities

4. Lowers the cost of analytics

5. Drives business agility

6. Ushers in anytime, anywhere collaboration

7. Enhances information, product, and service delivery

8. Keeps entire organisation in-sync

9.  Breathes life into innovation in IT

10. Cultivates optimal environments for development and testing

Zero CAPEX and low TCO for an enterprise-class IT infrastructure

Most cloud adopters with whom I’ve talked to cite this particular reason for gaining interest in the cloud.

Of course they had to dig deeper and consider all other factors before ultimately deciding to migrate. But the first time they heard cloud services could give them access to enterprise class IT infrastructures without requiring any upfront capital investment, they realised this was something worth exploring.

A good IT infrastructure can greatly improve both your cost-effectiveness and your capability to compete with larger companies. The more reliable, fast, highly-available, and powerful it is, the better.

But then building such an infrastructure would normally require a huge capital investment for networking equipment, servers, data storage, power supply, cooling, physical space, and others, which could run up to tens or even hundreds of thousands of euros. To acquire an asset this costly, you’d have to take in debt and be burdened by the ensuing amortisation.

If you’ve got volumes of cash stashed in your vault, cost might not be a problem. But then if you really have so much savings, wouldn’t it be more prudent to use it for other sales-generating projects? An extensive marketing endeavour perhaps?

A capital expenditure of this magnitude and nature, which normally has to be approved by shareholders, can be regarded as a high financial risk. What if business doesn’t do well and you wouldn’t need all that computing power? What if the benefits expected from the IT investment are not realised? You cannot easily convert your IT infrastructure into cash.

Remember we’re talking about a depreciating asset. So even assuming you can liquidate it, you still can’t hope to sell it at its buying price. These factors are going to play in the minds of your Board of Directors when they’re asked to decide on this CAPEX.

Incidentally, these issues don’t exist in a cloud-based solution.

A cloud solution typically follows a pay-as-you-go utility pricing model where you get billed monthly (sometimes quarterly) just like your electricity.  In other words, it’s an expense you’ll need to pay for at the end of a period over which the service’s value would have already been realised. Compare that with a traditional infrastructure wherein you’ll have to spend upfront but the corresponding value will still have to be delivered gradually in the succeeding months or years.

demand expense traditional infrastructure

From the point of view of your CFO, what could have been a CAPEX to acquire an asset that depreciates with time (and consequently reduces your company’s net worth), becomes a flexible operating expense (OPEX). Truly, it is an operating expense that you can increase, decrease, or even totally discontinue, depending on what the prevailing business conditions demand.

demand expense cloud infrastructure

People who think they have done the math in comparing cloud-based and traditional IT infrastructures claim that, although they see how cloud solutions transform CAPEX into OPEX, they really don’t see any significant difference in overall costs.

However, these people have only gone as far as adding up the expected monthly expenses of a cloud solution over the estimated duration of an equivalent IT infrastructure’s effective lifespan and comparing the sum with that IT infrastructure’s price tag. You won’t get a clear comparison that way.

You need to consider all factors that contribute to the infrastructure’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Once you factor in the costs of electricity, floor space, storage, and IT administrators, the economical advantages of choosing a cloud solution will be more evident. Add to that the costs of downtime such as: interruptions to business operations, technical support fees, and the need to maintain expensive IT staff who spend most of their time “firefighting”, and you’ll realise just how big the savings of cloud adopters can be.

Still not convinced? Well, we’re still getting started. On our next post, we’ll take a closer look at the additional benefits of paying under an OPEX model instead of a CAPEX model.

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