By Robert Rutherford, CEO of QuoStar
Even before the pandemic, there was a sustained and steady move by businesses to the cloud. In the months since, it's become a scramble. Agility has been critical to successfully navigating uncertain conditions, and those with cloud technology already in place were able to switch to remote working overnight. Those without were left with logistical headaches and little time to act before the lockdown closed offices nationwide.
As we enter a new normal in global working, the race to the cloud will intensify, as businesses expand their remote working capabilities and review existing arrangements. Many who do so are facing financial difficulty, and all in an uncertain economic outlook. Finding a solution that delivers on cost and durability will be a key challenge.
The first mistake would be to panic buy. Businesses need to take time to step back and evaluate requirements. They need cloud solutions quickly, but also answers that are right for the long term.
Doing so begins by addressing two fundamental questions: Does the business need it, and does it fit?
Answering these questions requires a complete overview of the systems currently deployed and a good understanding of who is using them. That visibility is, sadly, often lacking, and it can take an emergency to expose out-of-date or inadequate systems.
Building a picture isn't a one-man job. It requires proper consultation with all areas of the business to understand their present challenges, team requirements and future plans. By identifying key stakeholders in a company's IT systems and data, leaders will be able to gather the information to refine their search.
In any case, it is worth investing time and energy in the process. Without a real understanding of requirements, current capabilities and gaps, it's as easy to overspend as underspend on a solution or to buy the wrong thing. All will be costly to the in the immediate and long-term return on investment.
Choosing a model
The second key question to consider is what type of cloud offering is likely to be most suitable. The cloud market is dominated in terms of market share by the big "public" providers – Amazon, Google, and Microsoft being the best known. There are, though, a large number of thriving boutique businesses, too, offering private or hybrid solutions.
While they ultimately share many of the same features, each of these models has its advantages. Public cloud providers, like Microsoft and Amazon, are the most widely used, and typically have lower costs, no maintenance requirements, high reliability, and unlimited scalability. In this model, a business is effectively a tenant, paying for space owned and managed by the provider.
Private cloud providers, meanwhile, offer more specialised services and the flexibility to meet specific business through a tailored service. That gives users more control over both capabilities and security. A private cloud solution is used exclusively by one firm, either privately located in a datacentre or hosted by a third-party. It may, therefore, be the best option for those looking for advanced management and increased control of their information.
If elements of both sound appealing, it's also possible to use a hybrid model. This sees data and applications move between the public and private cloud. It enables sensitive information to be stored privately, while high-volume, low-risk information managed in a public cloud, with lower costs. It is, however, more complex to implement and may require engaging with a consultant or IT provider for assistance.
Choosing a vendor
Once you've decided on a model, all that's left is choosing a provider. Even in the public space, there are several big names to choose from. Microsoft's Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are the most widely used public cloud platforms, but there's a range of others, including IBM Cloud and Google Cloud Platform.
With many of these offerings pretty similar, the choice usually comes down to a trade-off between cost and ease of integration. AWS is often the most cost-efficient, but for those already heavily invested in Microsoft technology, Azure can offer better and simpler integration. The ease of this may also vary by geography, so it's worth seeing which benefits providers offer in each location where the business has a presence.
For a private cloud solution, the process is likely to be more complex. Buyers need to carefully investigate the resilience, service level agreements, and additional services, such as maintenance and support, on offer, as well as the cost.
Finally, in all cases – regardless of the model or other considerations – security is critical. The switch to remote working has significantly increased many businesses' vulnerability to cyberattacks, and we've already seen a wave of phishing scams threatening operations where workers are widely dispersed. Almost all organisations have significant amounts of sensitive data and with it a legal obligation to keep it secure. Reputable providers will have robust security arrangements in place, but businesses still have a responsibility to ask about these and thoroughly review them. It is not a job you want to leave until there has been a security breach.
An investment, not a cost
Covid-19 has forced rapid changes on the way all businesses work, but the effects are likely to be long-lasting. It will affect business operations and attitudes profoundly. With the future of large-scale offices up in the air, remote working will become a more prevalent offering in the modern workplace. The cloud will have a central role in the organisational IT of the future.
In turn, that also means internal, centralised systems delivering the bulk of IT service will increasingly be a thing of the past. They typically require costly upgrades, restrict workplace operations and can be prone to security compromises. Cloud, on the other hand, is scalable, flexible, evergreen, and, with the right provider, more secure. To maximise these benefits, though, businesses need to choose the right solution at the right price. To do so, they need to understand both their business requirements and a wide range of providers' offerings. They need to shop around to find the right solution that will let them meet the challenges of the current crisis and make the most of the opportunities ahead as economies recover.