Is the Cloud Right for Your Business? The Answer Isn't Always Yes

By Kong Yang, SolarWinds

While organisations are enticed by the greater agility, speed of access and financial savings that come with the promise of the Cloud, the world doesn’t need another hacking scandal or another Nirvanix debacle to know that the risks of Cloud storage must be firmly weighed up against the benefits. Although the speed of product and service delivery may be quicker in a virtualised environment, and the shift from a CAPEX to OPEX model appealing, IT managers need to do their due diligence before deciding which solution is right for their business.

The difference between Cloud adding value to an organisation, or doing the exact opposite (placing additional, un-planned strains on IT and finance), can be a matter of a few careful considerations up-front. Here are some important things to remember for anyone looking to the Cloud for answers.

  1. Cloud isn’t necessarily the cheapest option. Cloud costs are aligned closely with how your business operates and how employees access data. While the raw cost of storage will likely remain unchanged, other ancillary costs such as user management, security management and data management will vary significantly. For example, if you require easy-to-use access (for non-technical users), or accessibility from a diverse number of sources (including 24-hour access), that added complexity will incur additional fees. Similarly, how long it takes to move that data around will also impact cost. Moving data faster means storing it will cost more than moving it slower.
  2. Beware of the hidden costs. The most notorious “hidden cost” with Cloud infrastructure is incurred in instances of connection redundancy. To avoid any additional service provider fees, IT managers should plan in advance how employees connect to the service during up-time and similarly the work-around during periods where connection is lost. If employees are not all connecting from a central office, it’s important to understand who will be providing the bandwidth for devices that are used from alternate locations. Almost all carriers have now implemented bandwidth caps on accounts, with surcharges for exceeding those limits.
    If work-related activity causes an employee to exceed their bandwidth cap, is that then a reimbursable expense? And if so, has it been budgeted for? Is that budgeting based on an approximation, or an actual analysis of what is reasonable, expected and tolerable as it pertains to employee bandwidth consumption for accessing that data or application? These are all vital financial considerations which should be planned from the outset.
  3. Assessing your bandwidth upfront can save headaches later on. As I said previously, speed of access issues won’t be eliminated completely in the Cloud, however planning ahead can certainly minimise them.
    The first step is to determine the amount of bandwidth required to use the Cloud-based data and apps at maximum (peak) load, nominal load and minimal (e.g. business continuity) load, and ensure that bandwidth capacity exists for each of the scenarios in which it will be encountered. The second step is to establish a redundancy pathway to the Cloud-based resources so that the loss of one circuit or carrier does not shut down the entire business. The third step is to have an active bandwidth-monitoring solution in place, capable of generating alerts anytime the bandwidth drops below the minimum requirements for each of the defined scenarios.
  4. Data is vulnerable wherever it’s stored (without the right security measures in place). There isn’t a significant difference between off-premises and on-premises storage when it comes to data breaches. If the proper security polices and security controls are not defined, monitored and enforced, it’s just a matter of time before that organisation experiences a breach—if they’re really lucky, they’ll discover it before the Government informs them.
  5. Not all storage is created equal. A typical mistake is using the wrong type of storage for the wrong type of data. Archival data, contemporary data and intermediate term data are all used at different frequencies and therefore should be stored differently.
    - Archival data is that which is required only for legal and compliance reasons and in the majority of scenarios will never be retrieved.
    - Contemporary data on the other hand is critical to the daily operations of the business, and requires near-immediate access if the primary source is lost or failed.
    - Intermediate term data can be classified as that which is still required for some purposes, but a delay in its retrieval can be tolerated.
  6. Align your choice in storage with your business processes. The second most typical mistake is pushing more data into Cloud storage than can be reasonably retrieved in the timespan needed. For example, if a business stores monthly sales data in the Cloud, and it takes a week to access one month’s data at quarterly report time, it’s likely that the data has been stored in the wrong storage environment. In this scenario it may be preferable to first aggregate that month of sales data, store the aggregation data in an online storage repository and then archive the detailed sales records.
  7. Data tiering isn’t always necessary. Although end-users can rely on service providers to automatically tier storage, with a bit of foresight, organisations can eliminate the costs associated with tiering completely by storing certain data in a non-tiered service.

Read related articles from Business Review Australia:
See How Round She Goes & Rackspace Created a Cloud Solution to Rival Etsy
Are we Headed for a Cloud Oligopoly?

When storing data on-premises, the appropriate tiering strategy can be a major consideration and often the difference between tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost capital because the wrong type of storage media was chosen.

There’s no doubt that using a Cloud service eliminates the need to purchase any servers or software upfront — delivering savings that help your bottom line. However, before committing to a specific Cloud service, IT Managers should evaluate how robust a service your business demands and a provider’s ability to scale as your business expands. So too should you consider the various storage options in the Cloud and align it to your business processes and operations. Off-premises storage may not be right for you, or it could be the factor that enhances operations, speeds access and catapults you into the future.

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