Cloud computing is booming.
A Gartner study found that 81 percent of respondent companies said they work with two or more cloud computing providers. But as Michael Warrilow, VP Analyst at Gartner, points out, making the leap from on-premises maintenance to cloud-based systems all at once can cause problems.
“There are many nuances between platforms, and trying to build services in more than one simultaneously is challenging,” Warrilow says. “Starting slowly also allows time for in-house staff to develop their skills and learn how to manage the cloud.”
The cloud’s flexibility makes it suitable for a wide range of business innovations, yet this flexibility can also make a muddle of a poorly planned cloud strategy.
To clear the path before embarking upon it, focus on these five building blocks of a smart cloud strategy.
Migrating data centers, applications or digital tasks to the cloud is not the last step in the process of becoming a cloud-based business, writes Pritish Acharya at Cloud Management Insider. It’s the first step.
“Cloud is not your data center run by someone else, it’s much more than that,” Acharya writes.
Because cloud computing isn’t as simple as moving data center operations to an outside partner, the best cloud projects begin with a focus on operational excellence. The team and company take ownership of their role in making a cloud project succeed.
Operational excellence teams help ensure there are no loose ends when it comes to a cloud migration. According to computer engineer Fernando Cardoso, good operational excellence teams will focus on several key points:
- Standardizing processes to enhance consistency and avoid errors.
- Keeping infrastructure costs in check and maximizing value from infrastructure spend.
- Ensuring consistent security checks and protocols.
- Managing business risks.
- Securing compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including privacy laws.
Team members focused on operational excellence may contribute in a number of ways. Generating checklists or rubrics for operations, planning and security, for example, is one way the team can help co-workers achieve key goals or comply with applicable rules when it comes to cloud computing.
Operational excellence teams can also focus on creating and maintaining performance baselines, Acharya writes. For example, operational excellence can focus on using resources efficiently, including cloud-based resources, and developing essential governance policies for both a cloud migration project and for operations after everything is ready to go on the cloud.
Security remains one of the hottest topics in cloud computing, and for good reason. While cloud-based data collection and storage can be highly secure, placing control of that data in the hands of a third party will always pose security risks.
Like operational excellence, cloud security can’t be boiled down to a single point. Rather, “cloud security encompasses the technologies, controls, processes, and policies which combine to protect your cloud-based systems, data, and infrastructure,” Edward Jones at WordPress hosting company Kinsta writes.
Cloud security may be further complicated when two or more cloud providers are involved, writes Steve Kosten, a principal security consultant at Cypress Data Defense. While any one provider may have a cutting-edge security setup, not all providers do. Users pose another potential security risk for cloud computing, as do connections to smart devices. A cloud computing setup is only as secure as its weakest point.
Creating a data classification system can help improve cloud security, writes Data Insider editor Chris Brook. Sorting more sensitive from less sensitive data allows a company to track the security of different categories of data over time for more insight into how that data is accessed, used and shared.
Tracking data in this way also allows an organization to address security needs more specifically. For example, the company may be able to use more specific methods to protect information covered by a privacy law or regulation, ensuring compliance as well as keeping data safe.
The most successful cloud security approaches begin with leadership and are honed through input with the teams that will interact with or be affected by the change to the cloud. They also focus on why the security measures are necessary, says Ron Ross, a fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about assurance and trust,” Ross says.
Often, reliability is one of the main reasons an organization looks to migrate some or all of its digital operations to the cloud. For an organization whose customer service depends on its digital systems meeting certain performance standards, reliability is a must.
When considering reliability, it’s important not to confuse this metric with availability, writes Muhammad Raza at BMC. Availability focuses on the amount of time a system is available, versus the amount of downtime it experiences. Reliability, by contrast, focuses on how effectively that system meets certain performance standards.
These two factors can be easily confused in some instances. A performance standard that requires a cloud-based app to be available for customer use round the clock, for example, implicates both reliability and availability.
In other instances, however, these two standards differ. A cloud-based app that customers can reach online at any time but that forces them to sit through minutes of loading screens, for instance, may be highly available but not highly reliable.
For businesses planning a cloud strategy, considering the effects of the cloud build or migration on the entire workforce within the company, as well as the business’s goals, can shed light on which metrics best track reliability. When the team knows what performance measures are essential to track, it can define reliability in a way that helps the business ensure its cloud-based project meets those goals.
For some businesses, the decision to migrate to the cloud is driven by a desire for greater performance efficiency. Performance efficiency focuses on whether the system or application can scale to meet user demands at any given time.
Take a fintech company, for example. The company’s user demand may fluctuate according to predictable patterns. Money transfers may be more common around the first of the month as paychecks are collected and bills are addressed. Online purchases may increase overall during the winter holidays, or loan applications may wax and wane along with homebuying or auto-purchasing cycles.
While cloud computing does provide some benefits in terms of performance efficiency, these, like other cloud benefits, must be monitored and considered within an organization’s overall cloud strategy.
For example, an organization may benefit from serverless computing, or it may not. In a serverless system, “optimization of cloud resources will be the responsibility of the serverless platform itself; many will find that unoptimized applications and databases will better perform if refactored for serverless,” writes David Linthicum, author of the Cloud Computing blog at InfoWorld.
Weighing the risks and benefits of serverless computing or other performance efficiency options contributes to a better overall cloud computing strategy because it helps the organization choose the right tools for a cloud build or migration.
Cost is a factor in any software project, and cloud builds or cloud migrations are no exception. While many organizations turn to the cloud to control costs, only those organizations that factor cost into their cloud computing strategy position themselves to maximize the value of their cloud spend.
The costs and savings associated with cloud computing cover several different areas. According to solutions architect Alan F. Castillo, key areas to consider when evaluating the cost of a cloud project include:
- Setup costs for in-house servers versus cloud build or migration costs.
- Costs associated with optimal hardware utilization.
- Savings in terms of energy use, such as utility bills.
- The costs of having an in-house team to address issues versus working with a cloud company.
Performance efficiency and cost control often go hand-in-hand. That’s because “managing costs is a challenge for organizations using public cloud services but also an opportunity to drive efficient consumption of IT,” note Gartner researchers Marco Meinardi and Traverse Clayton. Seeking efficiencies can help organizations reduce costs without sacrificing performance.
It is important to note that cost management becomes a team-wide concern after switching to the cloud. Cost considerations need to be baked into the decisionmaking process at all levels, starting from dev teams on up. Understanding and planing for this workflow and mindset shift is key to a successful migration.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated adoption of cloud computing. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted in April 2020, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” While it’s tempting to dive into cloud transformation, leaping before you look can result in unnecessary mess and expense.
Focus on the five steps of a smart cloud computing plan to know the route before you take the journey.
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