A couple of years ago, organizations were enamored with the IT simplicity cloud computing seemed to offer. They had bought into the marketing messages—“Put it in the cloud and forget about it!” “Put it in the cloud and never worry about IT again!”—and they were ready to hand over their email, data, or entire operating functionalities to realize the promised benefits. Fast-forward a year or two and you can hear very different stories about cloud providers—mostly because the service itself, its delivery, and what defines a comprehensive IT environment were misunderstood on both the vendor and client side. Remote computing, as it turns out, does not end well when coupled with a remote vendor relationship.
The Cloud, Simplified
If a core computing function is being hosted for you, it has been taken out of your internal network, placed in a provider’s network (the cloud), and then delivered to you. Instead of buying the oven and the ingredients to make the pizza, you order it—as you like it, when you like it. This is the essence of cloud computing or a hosted solution.
The Vendor’s Side
The pizza is cooked, the delivery man was on time, and you received your pizza. Transaction completed. Many cloud vendors think that if their cloud is working and you get your Microsoft Exchange or virtual desktops delivered, then their job is done. In fact, lengthy and detailed service agreements are constructed to ensure that their responsibility ends with their network. But, what if your bandwidth isn’t equipped to handle what is being delivered? What if your workstation gets a virus and you can’t get your email? As long as your cloud vendor’s network is still up and running, these issues are not their problem.
The Client’s Side
After you order a pizza, you still need to make sure your sidewalk is clear so the delivery person can access your front door. You need to make sure your door is working so it can open wide enough to receive the pizza, and you should probably have a cold glass of something at your house because, inevitably, you will get thirsty. These are things that no pizza delivery man has ever taken care of—it’s on you. Same is true with cloud services provisions—you are still the one responsible for your internal network. Even if you put all of your data and applications in the cloud, you must make sure your local infrastructure is equipped to support this computing model. This is something that very few hosted services providers will tell you because they just want to get you signed up, get your data transferred over, and get you in the system to be billed monthly.
Below are a few of the items you should address with your hosted solutions provider, your internal IT team, or your outsourced IT provider before committing to a cloud environment (even a partial one).
- Infrastructure: Your internal network infrastructure becomes even more important in a cloud scenario. After all, you must have operating workstations or thin clients to access the data and your local connections must support that access. Connectivity to the Internet becomes paramount because all your productivity hinges on that connection; as such, redundant bandwidth and a failsafe Internet access option are requirements. In addition, your switches, routers, and cabling need to be able to handle this new computing model.
- Workstation Maintenance: Yes, it is true that workstations can last longer if your desktop is being delivered over the cloud. However, that doesn’t mean they can be ignored. In fact, workstation maintenance—patches, antivirus, and antimalware deployment—becomes a priority because employees need a clean workstation from which to access the hosted services. If not, organizations run the risk of having malware erode the all-important bandwidth.
- Support: True, a cloud computing model greatly diminishes the need for full time, on-site IT support. But it doesn’t erase it. You still need some sort of on-site IT presence so that your employees can illustrate challenges in person. There also needs to be some sort of readily-accessible support with your hosted solutions provider.
- Strategy: Although the cloud can do lots of things, it can’t think strategically. All organizations still need someone to think strategically about the direction of their business’s technology. Are you getting the most bang for your buck? Is your technology driving efficiency and productivity? Is it helping your employees to work smarter? These questions are still salient (maybe even more so) now that your data has been moved to the cloud.
Organizations must take ownership of IT, even though they are choosing to no longer house their data. The basic considerations you evaluated when setting up your internal network still apply, and in fact, become even more relevant when you decide to employ a cloud computing model. As with any strategic operating shift in an organization, leadership must evaluate the benefits and risks—and ask the right questions before moving forward.
Optimal Impact contains original content by Heinan Landa. Permission is granted to copy this article as long as the following information is included: Heinan Landa is CEO of Optimal Networks, an IT support, management, and consulting company that helps technology drive clients’ business goals. For more information, visit www.optimalnetworks.com or call 240-499-7900.
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