Assessing Your Cloud Services Readiness

Assessing Your Cloud Services Readiness

Whether to add cloud services is no longer a question for most businesses. The real question is how or how quickly. The benefits are well understood: Reliance on a cloud infrastructure facilitates levels of computing elasticity and business agility that may not be possible through legacy IT installations. If you need more compute bandwidth for a temporary seasonal project, you can dial up resources to accommodate the added volume. If you have to move operations from one branch to another, you can turn off services here and turn them on there.

And this all needs to happen within hours – or days at the most. No longer can departments sit around waiting for IT to develop and deploy a new application. Business today is increasingly fast-paced, and businesses have to find ways to accommodate the undeniable urgency of now.

It’s no surprise, then, that cloud-enabled applications are becoming more and more common across the business landscape. A 451 Research study released in October 2015 found that companies are taking three primary approaches to cloud-enabling their applications. The study found 37 percent of businesses are moving applications to hosted and Software as a Service (SaaS) environments, 31 percent are migrating existing applications to a cloud infrastructure, and 32 percent are deploying new applications in a cloud environment.

The study also pointed to a need to further automate workloads and discussed some inhibitors to cloud adoption, such as how to train staff for the cloud, a lack of cloud awareness and knowledge, resistance to change, and fear of complexity. So even as cloud initiatives move full speed ahead, enterprises have to contend with how to overcome these challenges.

Only then can organizations position themselves to fully take advantage of the cloud. One area that will require special attention is connectivity and bandwidth. Wanting to boost agility and elasticity by tapping the cloud is all well and good, but you won’t get there without addressing bandwidth requirements to handle volume increases and fluctuations. For that, businesses will need help from reliable connectivity and bandwidth providers that understand your evolving requirements.

Understanding Cloud Services

Microsoft, Google and Amazon are doing their part in promoting cloud services by competing on the affordability front. As 2016 kicked into gear, Microsoft cut prices by as much as 17 percent on some of the Virtual Machines that run on the giant vendor’s Azure cloud computing platform. The move is consistent with price cuts by Amazon on its own cloud platform, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and by Google on the Google Cloud Platform.

Competitive pricing, of course, is nothing new in the technology space. It is sure to catch the attention of business decision makers who are preparing cloud plans or taking their initial investments to the next level. But focusing on price in an area that has become so essential to running the business can lead to shortsighted decisions, so businesses ought to tread carefully before jumping to any one cloud services provider based on price alone.

Even though the “cloud services” umbrella covers multiple approaches and uses, there are real distinctions from one service to another, and each business needs to seriously take stock of what it already has in place by way of computing resources and how they can be augmented – or replaced, if so warranted – before making any rash decisions. For instance, do you view the cloud primarily as a platform to develop and deploy applications to your workforce as quickly as possible so you can take advantage of ever-changing market dynamics? If that’s the case, you may want to focus on Platform as a Service (PaaS), and the cloud services provider that has the best approach for your requirements.

If, instead, your needs are more in the realm of deploying and maintaining hardware, storage and networking gear, do your homework on identifying the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider that best suits those needs. Still, if your goal is to minimize in-house application investments and expenses, you should look to leverage the low maintenance requirements and guaranteed updates you get with hosted applications or SaaS.

Assessing Cloud Readiness

Clearly, businesses have various approaches to the cloud from which to choose, and making the right choices requires a serious assessment of your needs and how they map to business goals. Deploying technology simply for its own sake won’t get you far; instead, you must conduct due diligence to ensure the cloud approach you choose can support current, and anticipated future requirements.

Before turning on the cloud spigot, businesses also must conduct an honest assessment of whether they are cloud-ready. In performing such an assessment, it’s important to realize there are technology, infrastructure and cultural considerations.

Technology Considerations

On the technical side, do existing gear and devices have the capacity to handle new resources and applications that may require more computing power? Is it time to upgrade software applications or replace aging notebooks? What about your physical servers? How long have you had them, and is it time to replace them? In many cases, it’s possible to get rid of most physical servers since the point of migrating to the cloud is to keep in-house gear to a minimum and take advantage of virtual environments.

Infrastructure Assessment

On the infrastructure side, businesses not only need to look at their storage capacity to make a calculation on how much more they need to add, but also decide how much of it should be handled in-house or in the cloud.

Other infrastructure areas to investigate include checking if the networking gear is up to date, whether new wiring is required to handle new types of connectivity, and whether your server rooms and wiring closets are meeting power and cooling requirements. Pay particular attention to the latter because, even though businesses often treat power and cooling as an afterthought, if one of those systems fails without a proper backup in place, it could cause a chain reaction of damage if critical systems start to overheat.

Connectivity Check

A solid cloud infrastructure demands reliable network connectivity, plentiful bandwidth and high-connection speeds. While cloud service providers make it sound simple with their aggressive marketing efforts, the reality is you may not be able to maximize the cloud’s benefits if your business lacks the necessary connectivity and bandwidth.

This can make or break your cloud investment, so an assessment of connectivity and bandwidth requirements is an absolute must. Enterprises with multiple locations, especially if their footprint covers several continents, need to get this right. Will basic Internet connections suffice in some locations? Do you need fiber feeding into all your locations?

In a global setting, you also have to consider whether centralized connections make sense: If all your users around the world are being served through a hub in New York or San Francisco, performance, availability and redundancy may be impacted the farther out your users work from that location.

Businesses need reliable connectivity and bandwidth to handle not only daily load requirements but also seasonal peaks, such as those created by tax-filing time for financial organizations and the holidays for retail. You need a connectivity provider that understands these fluctuations and provides the load balancing support to prevent performance and connectivity issues.

Security Requirements

Shifting computing resources to a cloud environment is a cause for concern for many business decision makers. In its October 2015 study, 451 Research found that security concerns have a “significant impact” on 77 percent of organizations pondering whether to adopt a cloud strategy, be it public, private or hybrid.

Worries over security are especially acute in industries that handle highly sensitive data such as healthcare, financial services and military contractors. But any business that employs people or processes credit card information handles sensitive private data. As such, each business is obligated to protect that data, which may include health records, social security numbers and payment card credentials.

Trusting that kind of information to public Internet connections takes a leap of faith for many business leaders, which is why private and hybrid clouds are becoming more and more popular. Rather than connecting to cloud resources through the public Internet, businesses can choose to instead establish private links to the cloud. An enterprise connecting to the cloud can take advantage of direct-connect solutions managed by a connectivity provider. This can prevent a company’s cloud links from being shared by other organizations and minimizes the chance that private data will be exposed mistakenly to unauthorized eyes.

One recent well-publicized example of such an incident involved the Democratic National Committee, its cloud services provider and the party’s presidential campaigns. At one point, staff members in one campaign were able to see data belonging to their rivals.

Cultural Adjustments

Moving workloads and resources to a cloud infrastructure requires a cultural adjustment in most organizations. It is human nature to resist change to an unknown method or approach, so enterprises that make the move must be ready to act not only in physical and virtual technology realms, but also at a psychological level.

Some training is required to adjust to the new approach, and in some cases, it may be necessary to replace legacy workers with new skills. Beware of losing institutional knowledge. Wherever possible, organizations should make every effort to retain personnel that understands how the business operates.

Benefits Outweigh Fears

Cultural, technical and security inhibitors are bound to persist as cloud services continue to gain momentum, but as the benefits become better understood, cloud fears will surely erode. Consider, for instance, the advantage of launching an app to your office and mobile users that shows your customers’ buying trends by season, geographic region, weather, time of day and other factors. Having that type of information at users’ fingertips leads to a smarter, more innovative workforce.

As such, cloud-enabled applications and services, and a reliance on cloud infrastructure for at least some of your computing needs can produce results enterprises could only dream of a few years ago. A cloud strategy can affect and transform what a business does – balance inventory, determine how to approach customers, refine business processes, decide what business opportunities to pursue, and so forth.

But before you can leverage any of that, an honest assessment of how cloud-ready you are is necessary. You need to understand your current capabilities and how your connectivity and bandwidth demands will change. Working with a reliable provider that can also help address security issues and help with technology and cultural concerns will put you on the right path to a successful cloud services implementation.

The question is no longer whether to add cloud services is - it's how or how quickly.

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