Cloud Computing Trends: Where is the Cloud Headed Next?

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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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A Definitive List of the Business Benefits of Cloud Computing

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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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Do you really need a Cloud Broker?

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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.

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