The Cloud, what it is, what it can do for me and how we moving into it.

What is it?

In the real world 'Cloud computing' is the provision of various IT services (Email etc) or Data storage (Dropbox, Google drive etc), at a location away from where they are used. In some cases the cloud can be in different countries or even continents.

It relation to most SME's : Cloud computing is a colloquial expression used to describe a variety of different types of computing concepts that can potentially involve a large number of computers that are connected through a real-time communication network (typically the Internet).

Cloud computing is a jargon term without a commonly accepted scientific or technical definition. In science, cloud computing is a synonym for distributed computing over a network and means the ability to run a program on many connected computers at the same time. The popularity of the term can be attributed to its use in marketing to sell hosted services in the sense of application service provisioning that run client server software on a remote location.


What can it do for me (and my business)?

It can allow your company fast and cost effective access to Enterprice level applications and data storage. These things are often expensive to implimente in the SME enviroment and take some time to set up and configure.. It can also provide high levels of resiliance and security in these services

Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services. The cloud also focuses on maximizing the effectiveness of the shared resources. Cloud resources are usually not only shared by multiple users but as well as dynamically re-allocated as per demand.

The term "moving to cloud" also refers to an organization moving away from a traditional capital expenditure model (buy the dedicated hardware and depreciate it over a period of time) to the Operational expendature model (use a shared cloud infrastructure and pay as you use it)

Proponents claim that cloud computing allows companies to avoid upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on projects that differentiate their businesses instead of infrastructure. Proponents also claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.


Net-Gen and the Cloud

Net-Gen has extensive experience in cloud services. We were early adopters of remote service and data provision, providing clients remote Microsoft Exchange Server access . We have installed and configured and decentralised a range of companies IT systems ranging from one-man-band small businesses up to a national company with a sales team of 55 working and located across the UK and Ireland.

We can advise and help you with the managerial/strategic changes involved in moving to the "cloud" We can help choose, deploy and migrate to cloud based services, whether its a single application or your entire infrastructure.


Moving into the cloud

We always start with a four-point overview based on our experience. It will give us the starting line, but beyond that each and every cloud strategy will be different depending on a myriad of circumstances in your company.

Move only what you have to and start fresh wherever possible
The first thing is to dispatch with the idea that you are going to "move" all of your current data and resources into the cloud. That is a very difficult and often just not possible, While it is certainly likely that a good portion of your environment can be virtualised and moved into a environment like Amazon Web Services, the move to the cloud should be viewed as an opportunity to leave systems behind and replace them with systems that are lighter, faster and less expensive. Moving to the CLoud can afford a great opertunity to review, streamline and taylor what your comany and staff actully need from there IT services.

Tear down and rebuild your security model
If your Microsoft current IT service SysAdmin has convinced you that Server based / Active Directory is a viable solution for the cloud, or that because you use Active Directory you can only get into the cloud by sticking with solutions that support Active Director (AD)/Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD), you need to get a second opinion.

When moving to the cloud you have to consider that many solutions do not allow for authentication off of Active Directory and instead rely on more common security protocols such as SAML1, SAML2, OID and OAuth. Identity Access Management (IAM) vendors have been forced to consider brokering authentication for Active Directory because companies feel like they must stay on it as an internal authentication platform. Nothing could be further from the truth and if you do your research, you will discover that there is a wealth of options out there. To get into the cloud you need the most robust and extensible authentication model you can possibly build and by doing so your options for solutions will increase exponentially.

Cost savings are a benefit, not a driver
If you think that you need to get into the cloud to save money, you need to think again. Yes, you will ultimately save money by migrating to the cloud, lots of money in fact, but it takes time to get there and there is the chance that you will actually spend more money upfront. When making your pitch to senior management, talk about the benefits of reduced infrastructure, resources, better uptime, business continuity enhancements, mobility and access ubiquity. If asked about cost savings, be ready to deliver your pitch on how you intend to reduce or eliminate capex spending, reduce personnel resources, move services to a pay by month model eliminating long term contracts and ultimately reduce your annual budget by a modest percentage year over year over a 3-5 year period of time. Do not get caught in the trap of making cost savings one of your drivers for going into the cloud. You will bring a level of scrutiny over your claims, on which you will most likely be unable to deliver.

Create a long-term flexible strategy
The last bit of wisdom is to develop the most thorough 1-, 3- and 5-year cloud strategy that you can put down. My 1-year strategy is very specific; my 3-year is slightly less specific because I find that even 3 years down the road is very hard to see. It's impossible to see five years in the future, but if you work backwards from 5 years you can, even at a very amorphous level, describe how you would want your environment to look at that point. These should be rolling strategies that are flexible enough to consider the dynamics of the industries you will operate in. Today's Identity Access Management vendor will be tomorrow's Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendor and a week from now, could be bought by a company in some entirely different vertical. By creating a flexible strategy, you can constantly adapt to these changing conditions in the industry over which you have almost no control.

In considering these four concepts, keep in mind that they are applicable to any size organization and any cloud scope transformation. The more I have considered them, the more I have realized that they are applicable anywhere. It's no small task, but you can move your company into the cloud if you approach things with a new mind and put aside the technologies of the past.

One last thing to the next five years, new employees coming into your company won't know (or care) how to use Outlook or mapped drives. They won't care for your PC laptop offering or why your firewall blocks Dropbox. They will have established methods for doing work and they will all involve the cloud. Seventy-five out of the top 100 universities in the latest NewsWorld Report college rankings use Google Apps as their primary backbone. Seven of the 8 top UK Universities are in the same boat. Do you really want to be the last one at the starting line?