Q There seems to be a lot of talk about cloud computing at the moment. Should I look into it? What can it do for my organisation, and what are the pros and cons?
A Cloud computing is a different way of running your IT set-up. Applications run in ‘the cloud’, which means on a shared data centre, on the Internet – think of the difference between Gmail (run in the cloud) and Microsoft Exchange (run locally). You plug into cloud computing by going online, logging in, customising it and using it like a utility.
If you’re looking to create organisational efficiencies and reduce costs around IT, now is the time to start looking at and trialling enterprise cloud computing – that is, cloud computing for your business. Running a company IT set-up demands office applications, storage for your data, a network, a computer each, back-up, upgrades and IT support if the IT set-up is business critical (which increasingly it is). All of these have to work together, they cost money and they use significant amounts of energy. Cloud computing services include Google Apps/Docs/Wave, Microsoft Azure, Apple’s MobileMe and Amazon’s EC2.
My advice for now is to think about the risks and benefits, and begin to research and run trials: most services allow a trial period, and this does not tie you into making changes. Check out your broadband’s real capability using an online speed tester. Moving to cloud computing will demand a significant amount of commitment and energy (read AmbITion’s ‘How To… ensure your IT project doesn’t fail’ for top tips). Cloud computing will also create significant cost and sustainability benefits.
• It’s faster to get started
• It costs less – you don’t need to pay for people, products and facilities to run the applications
• You don’t need a tech team to keep it up and running and updated
• You don’t need servers and storage and back up (Google’s back up systems for example, are likely to be far better than a cultural organisation can deliver itself)
• It is easier to scale up or down
• It is more secure because you can set up a Virtual Private Networks online to protect your privacy in the same way as you can using a server-based network. In addition, the providers of cloud computing are better at protecting online data from malicious attack.
• It is reliable – based on the architecture of multi-tenancy: there is not a copy of the application for each business using it, there is just one application, shared by everyone. This is customisable and will benefit from new features, that will get added automatically.
• Not all apps work in the cloud yet (but they will soon), so you’ll need to run a mixture of apps on local computers and on the cloud. This means that the processing power of the local machine can be reduced significantly though, so you will be able to use cheaper, smaller, less power-hungry devices – a long-term benefit.
• You don’t buy items (servers, software) once. Rather, you pay a predictable monthly subscription. This will mean a change in accounting systems.
• You need a good broadband bandwidth: upstream and downstream. This may mean investing in a 1:1 uncontended ADSL connection. Although a standard 8MB connection sounds a lot, it will be contended, so factors including the time of day, number people/other businesses using an exchange at a given time, the distance of your office from the exchange and other technical issues mean that it is likely that you will get significantly less than 8MB broadband. Your ISP may also throttle your speed at certain times of day – this applying to broadband services marketed as "unlimited subject to a fair usage policy".