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October 01, 2011

The Cloud is Serious Business

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of InfoTECH

You kids today with your “cloud computers” and your “Googly Docs.” In my day, we attached files to our emails… and we liked it that way. 

Dave, you’re like two years older than me.

Those were the lines in a comic one of my TMC (News - Alert) colleagues recently sent me. Comedy finds its roots in truth; this instance is no exception. Among the chief obstacles to new technology adoption is a lack of understanding of its benefits, including ease of use. In any organization, you’re likely to find a group that understands and has begun leveraging the latest technologies, and another that finds comfort in the status quo.

It’s not necessarily that they don’t believe in new technology, but that familiarity comes with a level of comfort, and change brings with it a learning curve and a level of uncertainty.

Indeed, we do have cloud computing, including Google (News - Alert) Docs, and countless other implementations in the form of storage, security, communications, and other applications and services. We also have many who have started using these capabilities on a personal or business level, and other that have not.

With Hurricane Irene having left its mark on the East Coast only days ago – not to mention the earthquake just days earlier felt in much of Irene’s path of destruction – this is an ideal opportunity to explain to Dave why he should consider cloud services as a logical alternative to his traditional premises-based tendencies.

From Charleston, South Carolina to Portland, Maine, more than seven million businesses and residences were left without power. The scenario was potentially devastating for businesses without backup power and, even with backup generators, many still suffered from network connectivity losses.

What it effectively meant is that these businesses were shut off from their resources until power and connectivity in their areas was restored because employees, whether they were able to get to the office or not, could not access data or applications stored on local servers.

But, put it in the cloud – your data, your applications, your email, and even your virtualized desktops – and suddenly the office can function normally. Considering the extent of the damage from storms such as Irene, there is the likelihood that not everyone will be have power restored and enjoy connectivity at the same time, meaning some may still be without access. But it means if they are able to find ways to connect – WiFi hotspots or carrier WiFi, friends or family members, 3G/4G wireless – they can operate under near-normal conditions, especially if you’ve also added cloud-based VoIP service.

There are a number of reasons many businesses are reluctant to move into the cloud, including security (the most frequently cited concern), cost – both in retaining value in existing infrastructure and reduced IT budgets – integration with existing technologies, and internal expertise.

Ironically, security should likely be the least of the concerns. Simple logic dictates that cloud implementations must be at least as secure as any on-premises deployments. Cloud providers are ultimately held responsible for the securing their entire cloud infrastructures, just as IT managers are individual businesses are and, at the very least, must implement equal levels of security. The difference is, they also have more at stake, as security breaches put all their customers at risk, driving them to increase their security efforts.

As for other adoption hurdles – which can be overcome with proper planning and implementation – the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. A Mimecast survey from 2010 indicated that 70 percent of those respondents that have already moved part of their infrastructures to the cloud already planned on additional migration, most of them within a year.

A Microsoft (News - Alert) survey earlier this year indicated that SMB cloud adoption will not only grow in terms of number of subscribers to cloud services, but that the number of cloud services to which individual SMBs subscribe will nearly double in the next three years.

And the 2011 Future of Cloud Computing Survey by North Bridge Ventures indicates that three-quarters of its respondents expect to have more than half of their computing power in the cloud within five years. Likewise, only three percent do not have cloud within their five-year plans, compared to 10 percent that have yet to move anything to the cloud.

The move to the cloud is happening, with the majority of early adopters reporting positive results. Will the cloud solve every potential connectivity issue? No. The potential for widespread service outages will always exist, even with cloud services, but with redundant data centers in place, most cloud providers can limit exposure and ensure business continuity, not only in disaster scenarios, which certainly shine a bright light their capabilities, but also in support of an increasingly mobile workforce, where users will have access to data, documents, and shared resources.

The benefits are evident. What remains is for Dave to realize that not having to attach documents to his emails creates a more efficient business environment without a steep learning curve, allowing him to conduct more business each day. Try it, Dave, you’ll like it this way too.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page. Follow Erik on Twitter (News - Alert) @elinask.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi