30th March 2016
Businesses have traditionally looked at IT either as something that gave you increased productivity and more efficient processes, or something you had to have because everyone else was doing it and you didn’t want to be left behind. With the advent of cloud technologies, IT can now bring about genuine reduction in business risk – instead of adding to the list of things that can go wrong!
There are several key areas where cloud technologies can significantly reduce business risk if chosen carefully.
1. End User Applications and Productivity – Software as a Service
Cloud technologies in the application space like Office 365 and Google Apps have transformed the way many businesses utilise applications like email, word processing and spreadsheets. Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings such as Salesforce and Zoho are among the many apps that now provide CRM services to thousands of businesses all over a web browser.
If you haven’t yet considered moving to a cloud based platform like Office 365, you should consider how this has eliminated the need for a server in the office to run the applications, eliminated the need to buy software which must be supported and upgraded. It removes the need to provide disaster recovery for that email server and your IT staff have one less system to manage.
The SaaS model has proven itself and shown businesses that you don’t ever need to be thinking about owning hardware and software ever again – all you need to do is rent the applications as a service and pay for what you use. The data however is still yours and the responsibility to manage and protect it is still largely all yours.
2. Data Protection
Cloud technologies are very effective in protecting your company’s data by backing it up and storing it in the cloud. When you lose files or have any form of data corruption, you can retrieve the files from the cloud service within minutes. For your servers and business applications that are not running in the SaaS model, a cloud disaster recovery (DR) solution can dramatically reduce your business risk by replicating your servers and data into a cloud DR environment. This allows you to run your critical applications straight from the cloud DR environment in the event that you have a system failure in-house, or in the event of a full disaster where your office building is unavailable due to a fire or flood etc.
This approach protects your data much better than trying to keep it all in house and means you can remove many of the existing IT systems you have altogether – such as backup tapes.
3. Reduce reliance on your IT staff or suppliers
Many smaller companies find that their IT function is operated by one or two staff members and they are totally reliant on these individuals to keep everything functioning. The business risk is that if your key IT person is sick, on holidays or leaves the business, you are very vulnerable to any disruption in the IT system. Using the services of a managed cloud technologies provider means that you are much less reliant on staff and no matter who comes or goes, the IT systems continue to function and be supported by the cloud services provider, thereby reducing your businesses IT risk to a huge extent.
Even large enterprises with teams of IT staff, find they have the same vulnerability in key areas where particular skills are found in only one or two people and they have to rely on expensive contractors to cover skills shortages.
4. Utilise enterprise class IT systems that would normally be out of reach for smaller companies
The technology and data centre facilities that cloud services providers use is enterprise class. This means it is designed from the outset for heavy duty, ultra-reliable computing requirements. Normally, no small or medium sized companies have the means or perhaps the requirements to use this type of technology, but using a managed cloud services business means you the benefit of having your servers and critical application data all protected by enterprise class products and datacentres.
5. Managed Services – not self service
If you choose a managed cloud service, you are getting the best of both worlds – all the benefits of a cloud service but none of the risks and hassles associated with the “self-service” model of public cloud providers like Amazon and Microsoft. This reduces business risk as it takes away the dependence you have on trying to keep all the IT skills you need in-house, which is difficult in a competitive market with salaries rising and the ongoing challenge of keeping staff trained up on the new technologies.
6. Cap Ex v OpEx? What about cash flow?
The old model of IT investment was to buy everything yourself up front with cash, or raising finance to fund the purchase over three years. In this model you own everything and carry the depreciation on your balance sheet. Cloud technologies allow you to move away from this CapEx model to an OpEx model, where you only pay for what you use – with no capital outlay and no depreciation of assets that have to be disposed of at end of life.
7. De-risking the process of choosing a cloud technologies provider
If you are looking to use a cloud services provider for any aspect of your IT environment, always ensure consider these points:
Transparency – make sure they tell clearly where the data is being hosted and what technologies they are using to manage their service.
Customer Support – dealing with a quality service provider ensures you get through to someone in person as opposed to a faceless company. Understand clearly what the service level agreements actually mean in practice if you have to invoke disaster recovery or restore a lost file.
Off Boarding – get a clear breakdown of how you can leave the service and move to another provider if you want to change suppliers later on. This is a key issue to avoid ever being “locked in” to any one supplier.
Legal boundaries and data protection – is the provider an Irish registered business, or is it registered in another country? Is your data outside the jurisdiction of the US Patriot Act? By hosting in Ireland you come under the Irish data protection laws which are some of the strongest in the world.
Financial stability – ensure the service provider you are about to trust with your critical IT systems and data is in a sound financial and legal position. There have been some cases in other markets where a cloud provider went bust quickly and customers found themselves trying to get their data back and make new arrangement within a two-week time frame.
Lorcan Cunningham is CTO with Savenet Solutions.