I recently had the opportunity to speak at NTEN’s Cloud Summit held on October 26th at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York. This in-person event was a great follow-up to the series of Cloud Webinars that NTEN sponsored over the summer.
After the opening plenary by Ami Dar, the Executive Director of Idealist, I spoke on the topic of “Developing a Cloud Strategy”. This session was Livestreamed by NTEN and is available here.
I think that it is important to develop a little deeper understanding of what the term “Cloud” means, since most every IT solution that’s out there has slapped some blue skies on their landing page and dubbed their product a “cloud solution”. At its core a Cloud Solution is an architecture that provides scalable, Internet-accessible services. I like to use the terms Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (Paas) and Software as a Service (SaaS) to divide up the solutions that are out there. The solutions that fall in the IaaS and PaaS categories like Amazon’s EC2 Cloud and Microsoft’s Azure are typically not practical solutions for most organizations under 200 seats. Organizations in this category are typically looking at the Software as a Service where popular offerings such as Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce, Box.net and Twitter among others are found.
While discussing semantics about what truly qualifies as a Cloud is quite fun most people just want a solution that works. I think that there are three main points to keep in mind when looking at migrating some, or all of your IT systems to the Cloud.
- The Cloud is just another IT Tool :
- Backup & Availability planning: Just because your data is in the cloud, does not mean that you don’t have to think about your data backup, retention and availability plan. Each vendor will provide different Service Level Agreements that specify how long they’ll store your data. When you read the contract make sure that the Service Level Agreement matches up with your expectation and business requirements. Basic questions such as “What is our email retention policy”, “what is our plan should our provider be down for a day” or “how do we roll back changes after a corrupt data import” are important to discuss; it is important to understand how the solution you have chosen will function.
- Data portability: Cloud solutions are often very easy to migrate into, but are often quite difficult to migrate away from. Cloud solutions have the extra layer of abstraction so that you don’t have access to the underlying system. Instead of getting the actual SQL data backup you may be given a CSV export of your data, which can be much more difficult to migrate into a different system. Google has done a good job of identifying and working on this issue with their Data Liberation Project. Even with their resources not every Google App has an easy migration path out.
- Total Cost of Ownership. Yes Google Apps is “free” for non-profits and the Salesforce Foundation will give you 10 “free” seats as a non-profit, but a solution is only free if your time is worth nothing. I think that both of those solutions provide phenomenal capabilities, but there could be other solutions out there, that for a price, will integrate better with your existing systems, allow your organization to work more effectively or provide better support. The term “Total Cost of Ownership” can be a nebulous and far ranging concept, but it is important to look at all aspects, people and technology, that will be impacted by moving to a new IT solution.
- Cloud is outsourcing: Moving to a cloud solution puts one more layer between the end user and the solution provider. Instead of being able to walk down the hall and reboot a server or make a configuration change, that request needs to be routed to your vendor, who may or may not be able to accommodate your request. Moving your data to the cloud often means reading & agreeing to, or just agreeing to a lengthy terms of service contract. These terms often provide much greater protection and leverage to the vendor than the customer.
- IT becomes focused on the data not the system: As a technologist I love being able to see and touch the IT systems that I support. As more and more IT systems move from physical, on-premise solutions to hosted, “cloud” solutions my work has moved from setting up and installing servers to managing network connectivity and data integration between platforms. There will always be a need for a technically talented person to be able to troubleshoot and fix the PCs, laptops and tablets, but the frequency of that need will diminish. At the opposite end of the spectrum the skills required to implement, support and maintain a scalable cloud architecture are more sophisticated than those required for maintaining a small network in the closet down the hall.
The cloud is in some ways a circle back to the beginning of modern computing where small terminals were physically connected back to the main shared data processing system. We’ve been able to cut the cord and there are many more systems to connect to, but the model is still the same. Look forward for my blog on the power of local processing in 20 years.
More questions about the cloud?
Community IT has explored both SharePoint and OneDrive on our blog in the posts on OneDrive vs SharePoint , SharePoint as File Server, and OneDrive vs Dropbox.
You may also be interested in free Webinar resources we have presented on Sharepoint, OneDrive, and Dropbox. See our catalog of past webinars here.