• Joachim Mason
  • Caroline Donnelly
  • Ollie Taylor
  • Alex Dillon
  • Bill Wilkins
Head of data centre solution sales at Cisco UK and Ireland

The wisest strategy for providing future IT services is a hybrid of cloud and in-house computing,  says Joachim Mason, head of data centre product sales at Cisco UK and Ireland.

What are the main factors influencing a decision to move to the cloud and the benefits that arise from it?

You need a balance as a business. We see a lot of focus around hybrid cloud where you provide services depending on what is right for your company, what is right for your applications and your environment. It is essential to retain an element of choice between the new, agile ways of doing business and economies of scale the cloud can offer,  or gaining those advantages by transforming your own systems.
Another argument for hybrid systems is the potential of the cloud for lock-in. You don't want to be beholden to any individual provider particularly  at the technology level where applications born in that environment can become almost proprietary and impossible to move.

A company's data is its 'crown jewels'. Is it wise to allow them to fall into the hands of a third party?

Security is mainly a matter of having the right policies in place around your data and they can be enforced in an automated manner and you can be sure those policies are being adhered to regardless of where that data sits.

Will moving to the cloud impact the company's workforce? Are there any benefits for them?

You may not be able to set SLAs at all with some of the major cloud suppliers because they don't customise their services,  so you do need to think about your own specific needs. There are service providers who offer customised SLAs allowing you to ensure you  comply with regulatory environments and so on.

What are the cost implications for cloud systems?  Are there other benefits such as economies of scale of cloud computing?

Cloud systems are always up to date,  and these days we expect to have everything we have at home at work as well so it can be quite frustrating if work involves archaic IT systems. It may even be difficult to attract young talented people if your systems don't have the same look and feel as in their personal lives, so it is important to keep internal systems at the cutting edge too.

What factors do you have to watch when setting service level agreements with your cloud supplier?

It is often claimed that cloud computing equals lower costs but I'm not sure everyone agrees. Yes, with cloud you get economies of scale but they are enjoyed by the service provider and not necessarily shared with the clients. Hybrid IT systems can provide the same flexibility and support for innovation while also gaining economies of scale.
Service levels are also debatable. If your cloud provider has an outage,  you have an outage too and sometimes the penalties won't be enough to compensate for the damage. You must not have a single point of failure.
We see hybrid IT as the pre-eminent strategy for most customers, so they are less concerned with where the IT sits and more concerned with providing the service and the security around that service,  and retaining that choice in the future. 

Data Centre Editor at Computer Weekly

What are the main factors influencing a decision to move to the cloud and the benefits that arise from it?

From an infrastructure point of view, using cloud allows organisations to get fast, on-demand access to the compute resources they need to run their business at a fraction of the cost, while freeing them from having to shell out large sums of money on hardware maintenance and upgrades. 

Users also only pay for the capacity they use, meaning enterprises don’t pay to run on-premise servers that could be under-utilised during quieter periods.

Many organisations are using cloud to make their IT budgets stretch that little bit further in both these ways, but it can help organisations become more agile and responsive to changing market conditions, because they’re not held back by the limits of on-premise investments.

A company's data is its 'crown jewels'. Is it wise to allow them to fall into the hands of a third party?

There are a few precautions enterprises should take to ensure they can continue to operate on a day-to-day basis even if their chosen cloud provider can’t because of an outage, for example.

As such, having a robust (and regularly tested) data backup and disaster recovery strategy is a must for companies of any size that want to move all or part of their IT estate to the cloud.

Similarly, following a multi-cloud provider approach when procuring cloud services can help mitigate some of the business risks, because – if you use a single supplier for everything – what happens if their cloud goes down?  

Will moving to the cloud impact the company's workforce? Are there any benefits for them?

Using cloud services can help an organisation’s workforce become more productivity by making it easier for employees to collaborate and communicate on projects, for example.

Also, as line of business units get feel for using cloud, it can spur them on to try out new services and really contribute to accelerating the wider organisation’s use of cloud.

For employers, a more productive and efficient workforce can have a positive impact on the bottom line, while CIOs often report that supporting the use of innovative technologies - like cloud – in the workplace can help with the recruitment and retention of staff.  

What are the cost implications for cloud systems?  Are there other benefits such as economies of scale of cloud computing?

A lot of enterprises that are just starting out on their move to the cloud use it to run test and development environments for relatively small amounts of money, which could lead to the creation of new revenue-generating products and services.  

This type of experimental and exploratory work would have been cost-prohibitive and hugely time-consuming to do without cloud, when you factor in the hardware costs associated with building an on-premise environment to support such endeavours.

What factors do you have to watch when setting service level agreements with your cloud supplier?

How much say an organisation has over the contents of their chosen cloud providers’ SLA really depends on who it is they’re looking to do business with. So, before signing up to any cloud service, it’s always worth shopping around to see how much room for negotiation a potential provider is willing to offer when it comes to establishing contract terms.

A common area companies often overlook is how easy it will be to move their data from one cloud provider to another and what compensation they offer, should they fail to deliver on the terms of their SLA.

Cloud Services Manager at SIPHON

What are the main factors influencing a decision to move to the cloud and the benefits that arise from it?

Put simply, Cloud services are outsourced services delivered via the Internet. End users are therefore able to access their data, software, etc. anywhere with good enough Internet connection.

Businesses using the Cloud can remove the legacy on-premise equipment, which currently hosts their services. This is turn takes away the costs that goes with having to maintain and support this hardware.

A company's data is its 'crown jewels'. Is it wise to allow them to fall into the hands of a third party?

Once data is available on the Internet, the third party can essentially use this as they wish. Terms regarding data ownership and what they can use this data for should be clearly agreed prior to handing this over.

Many supplier contracts will not only contain clauses regarding customer data usage but also if this is ever used by a third party. This can at least provide peace of mind from a commercial perspective to the customer.

Will moving to the cloud impact the company's workforce? Are there any benefits for them?

A business using Cloud services will have different roles compared to other companies. The removal of an internal platform not only reduces the number of ICT support roles but also creates new roles within the organisation. Organisational processes can also reduce as a result. A vast number of applications managing the business are reduced into only a handful which can run the entire organisation.

What are the cost implications for cloud systems?  Are there other benefits such as economies of scale of cloud computing?

Reducing a company’s carbon footprint will come naturally from the removal of on-site hardware, however one of the main arguments is the pricing model. Services are quite often priced on a per user, per month basis, which makes it simple to calculate monthly outgoings and gives Finance departments much less of a headache!

What factors do you have to watch when setting service level agreements with your cloud supplier?

Service Availability and Support response time are the most commonly used key performance indicators (KPIs) within an SLA. These KPIs should not be treated as a guarantee as contracts will often contain disclaimers to protect the supplier should these not be met. Building redundancy within your business is imperative then if you are using mission critical Cloud services.

Professional Services Manager at BCS Consulting

What are the main factors influencing a decision to move to the cloud and the benefits that arise from it?

The biggest benefits for the business come in the form of reduced internal hardware support cost. Replacing esoteric, hand-built in-house servers with off-the-shelf packages from a cloud host saves time and money not only in initial procurement and setup, but also in BAU support, software licencing, outages, and ancillary costs such as racking, backup facilities, climate control, upgrades, security, disaster recovery, depreciation, and of course physical space!

For customers, universal access (properly controlled) is a massive advantage over traditionally-delivered systems, and allows for greater flexibility in both where and how they access systems: the more opportunities there are to use something, the more likely it is to be used.

A company's data is its 'crown jewels'. Is it wise to allow them to fall into the hands of a third party?

It’s a valid concern, and one that all of the big cloud hosting companies are aware of and keen to address. As long as your hosting partner is properly accredited, there are established methods for encryption of data and security around connections. Most of these technologies are things that a lot of clients already use, such as https or 2-factor authentication (e.g. RSA keys or biometrics) in order to control access, but there are also additional security methods available such as database-level column encryption. Of course, all of the existing risks around malicious users or compromised end-user machines are still present with cloud services: but at least with an external provider some of these risks can be addressed contractually.

Will moving to the cloud impact the company's workforce? Are there any benefits for them?

Right off the bat, cloud services support remote working much more easily (and securely). This can lead to increased flexibility and responsiveness for the workforce, who no longer have to be tethered to their desk or traditional PC in order to access a full range of business services. The continued evolution of mobile devices such as tablets and technology like Microsoft’s Continuum (which allows using a phone as a mini-PC, connected to screen, mouse and keyboard), coupled with cloud-delivered services, mean that more options than ever are available to support employees working in different ways, often providing opportunities to cut end-user hardware costs, whilst maintaining or increasing productivity.

What are the cost implications for cloud systems?  Are there other benefits such as economies of scale of cloud computing?

While the machine does still have to exist somewhere, there is no question that the way that cloud service providers can deliver computing power on an ‘as needed’ basis, and with greater economies of scale than would be possible at most businesses, is more efficient than holding that hardware internally, in terms of space, energy and cost.

Another benefit of cloud hosted services is that as the offerings evolve over time, you will benefit from opportunities to implement some sophisticated solutions, according to best-practice principles and at much more reasonable prices than if you attempted them internally: for example, georeplication or point-in-time restoration of backup data.

What factors do you have to watch when setting service level agreements with your cloud supplier?

First of all, be realistic: does the system actually need to be available 99.99% of the time? Unless it’s business critical, probably not. Secondly, make sure you set the appropriate times for your usage: 95% availability might be generally fine, but if that 5% outage comes in the middle of a busy workday, it can cause chaos. Thirdly, be aware of your own network infrastructure restrictions: the cloud host’s super-fast infrastructure means nothing if you’re going to be trying to connect over a 3G phone signal, or to a datacentre located halfway round the world. Finally, make sure you are clear which support elements come under your host’s remit, and which are yours: options can vary between a bare-bones machine to a fully-maintained and configured server, and you need to know very clearly where the lines of responsibility fall.

CIO/CTO, First Utility

1) What is the financial and operational case for putting your services on the cloud rather than operating your own servers?

The main case for heavy use of public and private cloud solutions is the mind-shift it enables within your I.T. function.  A move away from issues such as power, cooling, racks and the associated burden of running data centres allows space in your organisation to become more business solution oriented. It also makes sense that, through economies of scale, large cloud vendors are far more efficient at building highly available, secure infrastructures and they pass on much of those efficiencies to their customers.

A company's data including customer details, sales, technical specifications and so on are its 'crown jewels'. Is it wise to allow them to fall into the hands of a third party? How can this be done securely?

In the 18th century every aspiring mill owner wanted a safe, secure source of water to power their mill. They often rerouted existing waterways to ensure that security of supply.  Nowadays few organisations feel the need to own permanent power generation assets and instead they rely on the distributed infrastructure of a whole collection of commercial firms.  I guess we will think of compute and storage resources in a similar way in only a few years time.  The firms supplying such services tend to invest more in security than the average sole enterprise would be able in its own infrastructure. Of course they are risks of a breach but how different are they in a third party organisation to your own?

How can companies in heavily regulated industries such as banking be sure cloud-based services comply with legislation, especially if the provider is based in a different jurisdiction?

Different industries have different risk profiles and regulatory frameworks and therefore need to plan carefully how they approach the cloud.  A “one-size-fits-all” philosophy is seldom a good strategy and there may well be scenarios which do not sit well in a cloud architecture. Within our business we make these decisions on a case by case basis and not every solution gets placed in the cloud.

Will moving to the cloud impact the company's workforce? Are there any benefits for them?

There are great benefits to our workforce. It is simpler for them to access applications and provides improved support for mobile working. We enjoy less service disruption as SaaS/PaaS vendors improve continuous deployment (upgrade) capabilities. We’ve also found with Google Docs that there are great benefits in terms of collaborative working which helps productivity and version control.

The main arguments for cloud computing are such things as cost, flexibility and scalability, but what are the other benefits? Could it help with disaster recovery or reduce a company's carbon footprint, for example?

The main benefit of cloud/paas/saas is to allow the shift in IT mindset towards more differentiating matters beyond the confines of the data centre.  PaaS and SaaS solutions often are more modern, use latest software architectures and usually designed with “consumer-style” usability. In short, we get more strategic, more effective and more economic solutions that deliver a better ROI.