'Should we move our business processes into the cloud?' That is the big question hanging over the head of many — if not most — CTOs, CIOs and IT managers. Further complicating the issue is the vague definition of the cloud — is it Software as a Service (SaaS), is it AJAX-based applications, is it hosted management solutions, is it hosted applications? The truth is that the cloud is all of that and much more. The cloud has transformed into an ecosystem of applications and services that potentially could address any business technology requirement.
The easy part is identifying what's available — after all, the number of service providers grows on a daily basis and most applications are already serviced by a number of providers. The hard part is deciding whether or not to make the move to the cloud — a decision that should not be taken lightly.
Make no mistake: moving to the cloud is primarily a business decision. As such, it should be judged using the same criteria used for any new business process. Ultimately, the final decision will be based upon the metrics of ROI (Return On Investment), performance, sustainability and suitability to task. The best way to determine the overall suitability of cloud-based services is via a pilot project, where lessons learned can become part of the overall decision process and be used to build a template of how to proceed with future projects.
IT managers will need to do a little homework before launching that pilot project, as there are several tasks that should be performed before making the leap. Some of these fall under 'business best practices', while others fit more into the realm of technical analysis.
Managers should be prepared to do the following:
- An audit of the target applications and business processes to create a cost-benefit-risk analysis that compares a traditional client/server solution to a cloud-based solution.
- An audit of the cloud services provider, including an assessment of geographic redundancy, packet transport performance, latency and service guarantees.
- An audit of the business's own ISPs, including performance at connecting points, failover capabilities and guaranteed throughput rates to and from the cloud services provider.
- Monitor and frequently evaluate service and performance elements.
Identifying a cloud migration strategy is no easy task. IT managers will have to take many things into consideration to determine what process or service to tackle first. Questions asked should include:
- How many users will be impacted?
- Will any customisation be needed?
- What infrastructure is in place to support a cloud service?
- Will any equipment upgrades or changes be needed?
- What level of availability is required?
- Will this be a single-site or multi-site pilot project?
- What level of integration is required?
- Will staffing levels be impacted?
Although this is a good start, there are likely to be other questions that depend on the intricacies of the specific business practice affected. Those questions will usually emerge from discussions with users, management and technical staff.
For most businesses, the next decision comes down to selecting an external host, or deciding to self-host. Self hosting delivers the ultimate in control, but can also be expensive. Those wishing to self-host may have to invest in the complete infrastructure, development tools and staffing to build the solution. Self hosting may be a good option for a business seeking to move a highly customised application into the cloud for access by multiple offices or a mobile workforce. But beyond that, self hosting is generally too costly for traditional IT services.
For many businesses, the first services to move to the cloud are email, customer relationship management (CRM) and IT managed services. Although each of those cloud solutions have their own unique challenges, it's safe to say that many of the metrics and measurements that can be used are much the same.