How Armstrong World Industries is going Cradle-to-Cradle

Empty room with plants and blue wall

The Cradle-to-Cradle concept holds that human effort must be biometric, in other words enrich the environment within which it functions as opposed to breaking it down. This means manufacturing must be holistic in the sense that everything is reusable and nothing is destroyed. Armstrong World Industries was the first global mineral ceiling tile manufacturer to achieve Cradle-to-Cradle certification. We decided to take a closer look at how they achieved this.

Armstrong Worldwide Industries has five plants in the UK alone. These produce an annual turnover of €2.7 billion. They have been making ceilings for more than 150 years. Fifteen years ago and way ahead of the curve it started recycling, and has maintained a policy of not charging contractors for waste ever since. Along the way, it developed a product that can be re-used indefinitely.

The Challenge

Going green must also be commercially sustainable. In Armstrong’s case, it faced a rise in landfill tax from £8 per tonne per year to £80 per tonne per year. This turned the financial cost of waste from a nuisance to a threat. It calculated that recycling one tonne of ceiling materials would:

  • Eliminate 456kg of CO2 equivalents by saving 1,390 kWh of electricity
  • Preserve 11 tons of virgin material and save 1,892 gallons of potable water

They hoped to extend their own recycling project by asking demolition and strip-out contractors to join it, so they could reprocess their scrap as new batches of tiles too.

The Achievement

As things stand today, an Armstrong ceiling tile now contains an average of 82% recycled content. Indeed, if they could find more ceilings to recycle this could reach 100%. In the past two years alone, Armstrong Worldwide Industries UK has saved 130,399m² of greenfield from landfill, being the equivalent of 520 skips that would otherwise have cost contractors over £88,000 to dispose of.

The Broader Context

Armstrong Worldwide Industries is a global leader in water management, and is bent on minimising its reliance on fossil for energy. It has implemented online measurement systems that feed data to its corporate environmental, health and safety system. This empowers it to produce reports, track corrective actions and measure progress towards its overall goal of being carbon neutral.

Next time you sit beneath an Armstrong Worldwide Industries panelled ceiling, spare a thought for how much ecoVaro consumption analytics could contribute to your bottom line (and how it would feel to be lighter on carbon too).

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

How Alcoa Canned the Cost of Recycling

Alcoa is one of the world’s largest aluminium smelting and casting multinationals, and involves itself in everything from tin cans, to jet engines to single-forged hulls for combat vehicles. Energy costs represent 26% of the company’s total refining costs, while electricity contributes 27% of primary production outlays. Its Barberton Ohio plant shaved 30% off both energy use and energy cost, after a capital outlay of just $21 million, which for it, is a drop in the bucket.

Aluminium smelting is so expensive that some critics describe the product as ‘solid electricity’. In simple terms, the method used is electrolysis whereby current passes through the raw material in order to decompose it into its component chemicals. The cryolite electrolyte heats up to 1,000 degrees C (1,832 degrees F) and converts the aluminium ions into molten metal. This sinks to the bottom of the vat and is collected through a drain. Then they cast it into crude billets plugs, which when cooled can be re-smelted and turned into useful products.

The Alcoa Barberton factory manufactures cast aluminium wheels across approximately 50,000 square feet (4,645 square meters) of plant. It had been sending its scrap to a sister company 800 miles away; who processed it into aluminium billets – before sending them back for Barberton to turn into even more wheels. By building its own recycling plant 60 miles away that was 30% more efficient, the plant halved its energy costs: 50% of this was through process engineering, while the balance came from transportation.

The transport saving followed naturally. The recycling savings came from a state-of-the-art plant that slashed energy costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly enough, processing recycled aluminium uses just 5% of energy needed to process virgin bauxite ore. Finally, aluminium wheels are 45% lighter than steel, resulting in an energy saving for Alcoa Barberton’s customers too.

The changes helped raise employee awareness of the need to innovate in smaller things too, like scheduling production to increase energy efficiency and making sure to gather every ounce of scrap. The strategic change created 30 new positions and helped secure 350 existing jobs.

The direction that Barberton took in terms of scrap metal recycling was as simple as it was effective. The decision process was equally straightforward. First, measure your energy consumption at each part of the process, then define the alternatives, forecast the benefits, confirm and implement. Of course, you also need to be able to visualise what becomes possible when you break with tradition.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 4

Data The Cloud Storage Information Concept

Lowers cost of analytics

Big data and business intelligence (BI) have become the bywords in the current global economy. As consumers today browse, buy, communicate, use their gadgets, and interact on social networks, they leave in their trail a whole lot of data that can serve as a goldmine of information organisations can glean from. With such information at the disposal of or easily obtainable by businesses, you can expect that big data solutions will be at the forefront of these organisations’ efforts to create value for the customer and gain advantage over competitors.

Research firm Gartner’s latest survey of CIOs which included 2,300 respondents from 44 countries revealed that the three top priority investments for 2012 to 2015 as rated by the CIOs surveyed are Analytics and Business Intelligence, Mobile Technologies, and Cloud Computing. In addition, Gartner predicts that about $232 million in IT spending until 2016 will be driven by big data. This is a clear indication that the intelligent use of data is going to be a defining factor in most organisations.

Yet while big data offers a lot of growth opportunities for enterprises, there remains a big question on the capability of businesses to leverage on the available data. Do they have the means to deploy the required storage, computing resources, and analytical software needed to capture value from the rapidly increasing torrent of data?

Without the appropriate analytics and BI tools, raw data will remain as it is – a potential source of valuable information but always unutilised. Only when they can take the time, complexity and expense out of processing huge datasets obtained from customers, employees, consumers in general, and sensor-embedded products can businesses hope to fully harness the power of information.

So where does the cloud fit into all these?

Access to analytics and BI solutions have all too often been limited to large corporations, and within these organisations, a few business analysts and key executives. But that could quickly become a thing of the past because the cloud can now provide exactly what big data analytics requires – the ability to draw on large amounts of data and massive computing power – at a fraction of the cost and complexity these resources once entailed.

At their end, cloud service providers already deal with the storage, hardware, software, networking and security requirements needed for BI, with the resources available on an on-demand, pay-as-you-go approach. In doing so, they make analytics and access to relevant information simplified, and therefore more ubiquitous in the long run.

As the amount of data continues to grow exponentially on a daily basis, sophisticated analytics will be a priority IT technology across all industries, with organisations scrambling to find impactful insights from big data. Cloud-based services ensure that both small and large companies can benefit from the significantly reduced costs of BI solutions as well as the quick delivery of information, allowing for precise and insightful analytics as close to real time as possible.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing – Part 3

Uploading files on cloud service

Strengthens business continuity/disaster recovery capabilities

Today’s business landscape calls for companies to have reliable business continuity and disaster recovery capabilities. After all, when the system goes down, customers and even employees would rarely ask ‘why‘ or ‘what happened‘ but instead go directly to the ‘how soon can we get back up‘ part.

So unless they’ve been struck by the same unforeseen disaster your business is also experiencing, a couple of hours downtime is plenty enough for most of these people. What’s worse is when they simply don’t wait until they get access again and just go to other providers that can offer the same services. In short, your inability to provide continuous IT and business services could translate to lost opportunities which your competition would only be too willing to gain. And that’s not even counting the possibility of losing essential data and other potential negative impact that critical IT failure can bring about.

The answer to avoiding such a scenario is of course, having a sound business continuity and disaster recovery plan in place. But this is actually easier said than done.

Traditionally, setting up a business continuity plan entailed some tedious procedures in addition to very costly infrastructure. We’re talking here about acquiring and maintaining practically a replication of the hardware infrastructure and environments currently existing for business-critical systems and data. Note that these mirror systems should be set-up, housed, and maintained in a remote facility or location.

Making the deployment even more complex is the constant need to update the data in storage as well as keep software applications in sync between the system in use and the one on standby mode. This process would involve the physical transfer of data and syncing of applications, which is cumbersome and again, expensive.

While large enterprises would not even think twice about having to spend so much to ensure that operations would never come to a grinding halt, most small and mid-sized organisations would not have the required financial means for them to even start considering this option. Often, the bulk of their disaster recovery plan would simply consist of some tape backups, and a lot of hoping that they would never have to suffer from any outage or IT failure.

But all that can be changed with the arrival of cloud computing.

A cloud strategy offers an affordable solution for business continuity and disaster recovery for SMBs with limited resources and even big companies trying to minimise expenses by looking for alternative options.

A reliable service provider would already have the required infrastructure and software vital to a viable BC/DR plan and complete with the appropriate security measures. Organisations need not spend upfront for these facilities, but get to benefit from having updated data backup and a virtualised mirror system that would allow them to quickly get back up in the event of an outage or catastrophic disaster.

When looking to the cloud for a cost-effective BC/DR plan however, it’s worth keeping in mind that not all cloud providers are created equal. That’s why businesses also have many important factors to take into account before signing cloud contracts.

Yes, provision for continuity and and taking necessary precautions against outages are inherent in the cloud service itself, but you’d be surprised how many of these providers don’t actually take responsibility for service interruption. To give organisations some assurance of the cloud company’s capacity for continued service, contracts should stipulate availability guarantees and liability for downtime that the provider is willing to answer for.

Once these relevant issues are ironed out however, it’s easy for business to see how cloud-based data storage and computing can significantly lower the costs involved for SMB BC/DR while greatly improving efficiency, mobility, and collaboration capabilities.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

Cloud Computing Trends: Where is the Cloud Headed Next?

Female hand holding cloud perforated paper craft

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.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

Knowing the Caveats in Cloud Computing

Happy people with cloud and technology icons

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.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

The Cloud: Changing the Game for Small Businesses

Woman with cloud network

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.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

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

Happy people with cloud and technology icons

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.

A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing

Cloud uploading icon technology graphic

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.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK

Do you really need a Cloud Broker?

Cloud network storage isolated on gray background

A cloud broker is someone who can serve as your trusted adviser when it comes to your dealings with a cloud service provider. Sort of an IT consultant who: is familiar with cloud computing, can negotiate a mutually beneficial relationship between you and a provider, and help you manage usage, performance and delivery of cloud services. But do you need one?

Is it even time for cloud adoption?

Of course, if you haven’t even started considering moving your IT systems to the cloud, what’s the point of reading this article, right? Well, if you’re running a business in Ireland or the UK maybe you should start thinking about it. The benefits (of moving to the cloud) are simply overwhelming. But then that’s for another post.

For now, let’s just briefly talk about the rate of cloud adoption so far. This should give you an idea what other decision makers nearby think about cloud computing and what they’ve done in this regard so far.

According to research conducted by the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), the number of first-time users of cloud computing in the United Kingdom has risen by about 27% compared to last year.

The study, which was carried out by research company Vanson Bourne and which involved IT decision-makers from both the private and public sector in UK, also showed that 61% of companies are subscribing to cloud-based services. A similar research conducted last year (2011) revealed only 48%.

In Ireland, plans are underway to adopt cloud computing. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 75% of Ireland’s CIOs and IT directors are already adopting a cloud computing strategy.

Definitely, the number of cloud adopters is growing. If that number already includes your hottest competitor, then perhaps there’s no time to waste.

But while a migration to the cloud should be in your pipeline, it shouldn’t be something you should rush into. Generally speaking, there are at least three kinds of services offered by cloud service providers: IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and SaaS (Software as a Service).

Some providers offer variations of these services. You might only need one type of service or a little of everything. There are also technical and regulatory compliance issues that need consideration.

Obviously, if you have no idea where or how to start, you’ll need someone who can help you. But what kind of help do you need?

Let’s proceed by talking about the kinds of services cloud brokers offer as these are obviously indicative of the needs of current cloud customers.

What cloud brokers do?

Cloud brokers offer three main types of services.

Cloud inter-mediation

Cloud inter-mediation services are designed to add value to existing services and improve capabilities.  Examples of cloud inter-mediation include managing access to cloud-based services, carrying out performance reporting, and establishing stronger security.

Cloud aggregation

As mentioned earlier, some cloud customers may end up subscribing to multiple cloud services; most likely from different cloud service providers. To get optimal return on their various cloud subscriptions, these customers will need to apply data integration and make these disparate systems work together. They will also have to make sure data flowing from one system to another is kept secure. This is where cloud aggregation comes into play.

Cloud arbitrage

This entails finding the best cloud service provider(s) to solve a particular problem. One example is comparing different providers offering data storage services and identifying the one offering the most competitive rates.

Other cloud arbitrage brokers develop new solutions by combining the services of different cloud service providers and then offer them to cloud customers. While there are similarities between cloud arbitrage and cloud aggregation, the former is more flexible and allows the customer to transfer from one provider to another where conditions are more favourable.

Problems a cloud broker can help you solve

Just like with natural clouds, your experiences in cloud computing won’t be all white and fluffy. You’ll also encounter gray and uncertain (or even stormy) clouds.

One major issue in cloud computing is cloud security. In fact, cloud security (or the apparent lack of it) is the one thing that’s really clouding up the sky of cloud computing. But that doesn’t mean the cloud is totally insecure. Besides, there are certain types of information that really don’t require a high level of security. These types you can easily migrate to the cloud.

For sensitive information, you really need to conduct due diligence to make sure your cloud service providers’ data centres are secure enough.

Where exactly will your data be stored? Are there enough provisions for regulatory compliance? How will your data be segregated? Does the infrastructure readily support  data forensics? Is there a sound disaster recovery/business continuity plan? These are just some of the questions that need clear answers before you sign a contract with a cloud service provider.

Suggested reading: 9 Cloud Security Questions You Need To Ask Service Providers

Also, before you sign, you need to study the SLA (Service Level Agreement) very carefully. Look at the guaranteed uptime. Is it enough to meet your own desired service levels?

Bear in mind that the answers to these questions may be too technical. This is one of those instances when a cloud broker can come in handy. As your trusted adviser, your cloud broker can break down the technical jargon and present everything in a language that you can make intelligent decisions from.

A cloud broker will also be able to study the cloud provider’s security architecture and policies and determine whether they’re sufficient to meet your own security requirements. Basically, a cloud broker will not only help you obtain answers to your questions.

He will also know exactly what vital information to extract from providers in order to ensure that you find the best deal possible.

Contact Us

  • (+353)(0)1-443-3807 - IRL
  • (+44)(0)20-7193-9751 - UK