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Cloud computing: gearing up for enterprises?

If you’re looking to create organisational efficiencies and reduce costs around IT, now is the time to start looking at and trialling enterprise cloud computing. Running a company IT set-up demands office applications, storage for your data, a network, a computer each, back-up, upgrades and IT support if the IT set-up is business critical (which increasingly it is!). All of these elements have to work together; cost money; and use significant amounts of energy. Cloud computing services are services like Google Apps/Docs/Wave, Microsoft Azure, Apple’s MobileMe, Amazon’s EC2 and many more.

Cloud computing is a different way of running your IT set-up. Applications run in “the cloud”, which means on a shared data centre, on the internet – think of the difference between Gmail (run in the cloud) and Microsoft Exchange (run locally). You plug into cloud computing by going online, logging in, customising it and using it like a utility.

• Faster to get started
• Costs less – you don’t need to pay for people, products and facilities to run the applications
• Don’t need a tech team to keep it up and running and updated
• Don’t need servers and storage and back up (Google’s back up systems for example, are likely to be far better than a cultural organisation can deliver itself)
• More scaleable and secure
• Reliable – based on the architecture of multi-tenancy: there is not a copy of the application for each business using it, there is just one application, shared by everyone. This is customisable and will benefit from new features, that will get added automatically.
• Not all apps work in the cloud yet (but they will soon), so you’ll need to run a mixture of apps on local computers and on the cloud. This means that the processing power of the local machine can be reduced significantly though, so you will be able to use cheaper, smaller, less power-hungry devices – a long-term benefit.
• You don’t buy items (servers, software) once. Rather, you pay a predictable monthly subscription. This will mean a change in accounting systems.
• You need a good broadband bandwidth: upstream and downstream. This may mean investing in a 1:1 uncontended ADSL connection. Although a standard 8mb connection sounds a lot, it will be contended, so factors including the time of day, number people/other businesses using an exchange at a given time, the distance of your office from the exchange and other technical issues mean that it is likely that you will get significantly less than 8Mb broadband. Your ISP may also throttle your speed at certain times of day – this applying to broadband services marketed as “unlimited subject to a fair usage policy”.

So my advice for now is: think about all of these issues, and begin to research and run trials: most services allow a trial period, and this does not tie you into making changes. Check your broadband’s real capability out using an online speedtester. Moving to cloud computing will demand a significant amount of commitment and energy (read AmbITion’s How To… ensure your IT project doesn’t fail for top tips!). Cloud computing will also create significant cost and sustainability benefits.

For resources on cloud computing, including everything referenced in this article, click here.