The cloud, at least from an information technology perspective, has been the subject of considerable hype for some time. Even though it’s been talked about for years now I still get clients asking about “cloud” options while it is clear they don’t understand what they are actually requesting.
The confusion hasn’t been helped by the IT industry and vendors in particular. Because the concept of cloud computing is so broad, vendors define their offering as being in the cloud and as a corollary they define the cloud as being the same as their offering. Comparing solutions that purport to be cloud based therefore becomes difficult if not impossible.
I believe most clients intuitively understand key elements of cloud computing as being:
- a service; and
- outside their zone of control.
This is consistent with most definitions including Wikipedia:
However there are different types of services being offered. A common grouping is known as:
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
(sometimes known as Application as a Service); and
- Platform as a Service (PaaS); and
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
A typical diagram is:
The divisions between these groupings can be arguable, such as whether email is software or platform. The lack of clarity between layers is not so important as understanding what it is that you need and who is responsible for providing it. If you outsource the provision of email, including all the required hardware and software then it’s a moot point whether you are following a SaaS model or a PaaS model. Someone else manages and controls everything for you. If you then deploy your own software for another function onto the same environment, then that environment is effectively acting as a platform for you in a PaaS model, whilst you still manage and control your own software application.
Why is the cloud of interest?
The two main drivers for the cloud are cost and risk. All things being equal, the sharing of fixed costs between multiple users should lower the cost per user. This argument can spin-off into different areas with considerations such as minimising under-utilisation.
It can be attractive to organisations where costs are incurred as services are used, rather than having all the capital costs to cater for peak capacity which may only be needed occasionally.
The risk of a cloud based solution is different to that a traditional on premises solution. The risks reduced by moving to the cloud include:
- the dependency on in-house resources and skills; and
- the ability of systems, especially infrastructure, to scale as required.
However a cloud based solution introduces new risks normally expressed in terms of
- where your data resides
- privacy of your data
- access to your data in case of future changes to your systems
- the dependency on a third party to maintains their level of service
The quantification of the risks and the capacity to manage the risks should be part of the due diligence when evaluating cloud options.
Cloud computing is a valid option for many organisations. The nature of that option though is variable for each organisation and systems being considered. The justification for adopting cloud computing is equally variable. To arrive at a cloud approach that is appropriate, I recommend:
- Understand what costs and what risks need to be managed, then
- Map those costs and risks against the types of cloud options
It’s not difficult, but it can be challenging to explicitly recognise what costs and risks you are willing to manage and are not willing to manage.
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