Cloud-based services have become so pervasive that, for many organizations, it’s difficult to imagine using applications and technology infrastructure components without the cloud.
Compared with traditional, pre-cloud environments, cloud computing has brought efficiencies that enable companies to reduce capital costs and increase business flexibility. And according to experts, the cloud has had a dramatic impact on how web hosts and data centers operate.
Back in the pre-cloud environment, energy consumption was on the rise; resources, such as servers, were commonly overprovisioned; it took months to increase the capacity of existing services; server utilization rate was low; and recovery and backup plans were not at the top of the IT priority list, says Agatha Poon, research manager of Global Cloud Computing at 451 Research.
But with the advent of cloud computing services, Poon says, energy savings can be achieved through the deployment of “cloud aware” hardware and data center solutions, companies can consume resources on demand, services can be provisioned quickly and server utilization rates can go higher, thanks to the scale and elasticity of cloud services.
In many cases, companies have zero up-front investment in server and storage hardware, particularly in a third-party hosted environment. They can “boost overall operational efficiency while working collaboratively in the cloud,” Poon says.
Cloud computing has also led to benefits for the application-development community. “We’ve seen that cloud developers perceive the real benefits of the cloud to be freedom from maintaining hardware and scalability,” says James Owen, an analyst at Evans Data Corporation. “That said, the perceived benefit of the public cloud is largely cost savings.”
The Rise to the Cloud
What has brought on the shift to the cloud? Poon says key contributors include the maturity of virtualization technology, an increase in environmental concerns related to carbon emissions, and the growth of employee mobility via devices such as tablets and smartphones.
Also contributing to the growth of the cloud is the fact that capacity management has become more challenging than ever, and line-of-business managers are taking control of IT environments — for example, by purchasing software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications without getting formal approval from corporate IT.
According to Owen, the ability to virtualize storage and computational power has allowed organizations to provide more powerful web applications than ever before, and these applications have eroded the market for software purchased through traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.
Furthermore, mobile devices have fewer resources on board, “so the cloud is a logical place to off-load compute power and storage,” Owen says. “For this reason, mobile devices make up a large number of the clients for cloud applications.”
Why Developers Love the Cloud
Software developers tend to move to the cloud because of the flexibility and reliability it provides, according to Owens. “And those are also the top two reasons why developers stay with the cloud,” he adds. “The flexibility in technology and scalability, as well as the cost-savings measures, give organizations options that just weren’t there 10 years ago.”
Developers are generally shifting their attitudes toward seeing all manner of applications as suitable for the cloud, particularly business logic development, productivity and graphics-intensive projects, such as games and video streaming and editing. “This allows the cloud to shoulder the load and frees up their host machines for fine tuning,” Owens says.
Preparing an Organization for Cloud Changes
Companies that have not yet moved into the cloud, will need to make some shifts in organization, resources and strategy.
For one thing, they will need to evolve their IT mentality so that employees are comfortable with using external IT infrastructure. “No more server-hugging,” Poon says.
In addition, companies will need to shift their focus from asset ownership to service management, encourage an innovative culture, accelerate asset utilization, seek full support from senior management to make the move to the cloud, and take small steps and use a phase-based approach to smooth out the transition, Poon says.
Other changes needed relate to information security. “From a developer’s standpoint, the top inhibitor to cloud deployments is security,” Owen says. Currently, many cloud developers avoid deploying to the cloud because of security or privacy concerns.
“The heart of their security concerns has to do with the data center and the fear that outside entities could tamper with their data,” Owen says. For this reason, one of the major shifts in resources and strategy is the particular focus on security.
“Teams need to be well versed [in] anti-tampering measures and advanced encryption in order to make sure that their data is well protected,” Owen says. “These are all items that must be in place if developers can assure their organizations that a shift to the cloud is practical and safe.”
Another major shift in strategy has to be consideration of how and where data is stored.
“With so many regulations out there with respect to data privacy and storage, organizations really have to be careful about how they meet the various standards,” Owens says. “On one hand, the cloud allows organizations the opportunity to spin up numerous servers and store data beyond what they can do locally. On the other, there are limits to what they can legally store on the cloud, and where.”