The cloud for your business: some basics to start thinking about

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The cloud for your business: some basics to start thinking about

So you've heard of the cloud and you know it might solve some of your IT headaches and save you money. Here are some basics to start thinking about.

From Salesforce to Microsoft Office 365, there are plenty of reasons your business might be thinking about using the cloud.

Like any technology, there are some key things to know. This article will introduce you to some basics to start thinking about.

Before you start

Your business can gain valuable knowledge of the cloud including benefits and pitfalls by moving non-critical business systems to the cloud.

The first step is to identify all of the non-critical business systems used with the organisation. If the system does not link to a critical business system, such as your ecommerce platform, then it is a candidate to be moved to the cloud.

For each system identified make a list of the key aspects of the system including who uses the system, where the system data comes from and where the outputs go to. It is important to identify if the system is stand-alone or integrated with other systems in some way. Systems that are stand-alone can be identified as early selections for the move to the cloud.

1 Self-managed or outsource?

Having identified candidate non-critical business systems the next step is to work out where on the cloud the applications should go.

There are two approaches typically used in the cloud.

  • The first is to rent hardware in a data centre for self-managed cloud based servers.
  • The second approach is to outsource the system management to a cloud provider.

Both approaches have costs and benefits so it is important to identify what approach provides the best solution for your organisation. It is not unusual for a business to utilise both approaches because there are cost savings to be made when generic systems like a non-critical file server are outsourced, but for specialised non-critical systems like a statistical marketing platform the skills required to manage the system application may only reside within the business.

There are a large number of cloud providers available today, so it is important to look at what is offered before making a decision on which one to use.

2 How much will data cost?

A starting point is to look at the cost of data going to and from the cloud provider to find one that provides low cost data.

Carriers have started to offer cloud solutions and for businesses that have internet connections with the carrier they will provide data to and from their data centre at a very low cost. If the employees are going to primarily access the cloud from the business premise then a carrier that provides the business Internet connection may be a low cost option.

3 Look to use Single Sign-On (SSO)

The next most important requirement is to consider security and compliance with government legislation, industry standards and best practice. Business should be looking to utilise Single Sign-On (SSO) user authentication which is integrated with the business systems. The cloud provider should also offer two-factor authentication capability especially if you have staff who will be connecting using a phone or tablet when they are out of the office.

4 CPUs, hard disk space, bandwidth

Unless a business is very large where each business system resides on a separate server it is likely that one or more business systems will reside on a single server.

In either case by moving to a managed cloud solution the cloud provider will host your company on systems that also host many other companies and access is provided using SSO.

If you opt to rent hardware then you should consider:

  • the number of CPUs (or CPU cores) needed
  • RAM
  • hard disk space
  • bandwidth between hosted servers and to and from the business premise. Speed and performance are vital for the cloud to be a realistic solution. Speak with your Internet provider to get their advice on how best to setup your Internet connection to work with the cloud.

5 Do you want a "private network" in the cloud?

It is possible to setup a private network in the cloud and to have a VPN or MPLS connection from the private network to your business. This may cost more than the managed cloud solutions but it can provide better management capability, especially if your business has specialised software or applications to move into the cloud.

By utilising a private network in the cloud it does not mean that a cloud provider cannot manage the network, hardware, and servers.

6 What backups will be done and how?

When a business moves non-critical business systems into the cloud it is very important to consider security, privacy and data backups before a final decision is made.

Most cloud providers today offer on-site or off-site server backups carried out once per day or real-time data replication solutions. It is vital to ensure that a data backup strategy is implemented and don’t rely on the cloud provider. Daily, weekly or monthly off-site data backups are an important component of any cloud solution.

Security and privacy must be considered. Remember the government is in the process of introducing new legislation covering security and privacy of customer information so it is important to plan for this now.

Prepare your business for change

Probably the most important aspect of moving non-critical business systems into the cloud is how this move will affect staff. Prepare staff by talking them through the changes and by providing education and training at appropriate points during the transition.

The end result should be a reduction in internal computer hardware, electricity use, better understanding of the non-critical business systems, their costs to the company and improved access and utilisation through the cloud.

Dr Mark Gregory is a senior lecturer in electrical and computer engineering at RMIT. His articles have been published by The Conversation, Technology Spectator and iTnews.

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