Top 10 tips when considering Cloud services

For well over a decade, outsourcing tried to take a foot hold, but only over the last two to three years, things have matured, most notably with providers presenting us with stronger, more compelling options - it's not about hosting Microsoft Office or arranging offsite backups of data anymore, it's about offering complete private network infrastructures capable of delivering layered managed services on an utility basis. Take what you need when you need it, and pay only for what you use.

Here are the top 10 things for you to think about when considering cloud services:

1. Realise and understand today's business conditions

  • Market uncertainty is hindering IT spend
  • Long-term strategic IT planning is becoming increasingly difficult
  • Changes in the economy are happening at a rapid pace
  • Changes in the market need to be responded to quickly
  • New IT projects are difficult to finance due to the large upfront capital costs
  • Employees increasingly require access from anywhere and anytime
  • Geographically dispersed organisations are difficult for IT departments to manage
  • Instead of IT improving productivity, many businesses are now critically dependent on IT to just function
  • Service availability can be impacted by many factors, external and internal
  • IT services need to scalable, flexible and always available

2. Assess which elements of your IT services could be outsourced

Every business has different requirements when it comes to the delivery of IT services and thus not every cloud based service is applicable to every business.

For example if key critical servers cannot be hosted offsite it may not make sense to offsite the storage due to the network latency between servers and storage. If however the business delivers email and file servers centrally from one site this could easily be outsourced into a 3rd party cloud and data centre.

Another example: if the business has already invested into the infrastructure to host the company's email servers it would not make commercial sense to outsource the solution to a cloud services provider -unless it is simply to co-locate the servers and storage. However when it comes to archiving legacy email for operational efficiency or compliance reason or if e-mail data needs to be backed up or replicated offsite a cloud service provider could easily cater for those needs and should be considered.

3. Turn to the experts and concentrate on your core competencies

Having access to a full suite of specialised business support services is a critical part of the modern business. The aim is to ensure the delivery of a competitive, high quality and flexible service for clients. Sourcing external expertise enables a clear focus on key business activities, with the security of flexible business service support and cost stability. You can see the attraction for the executive level, this return to core competencies without compromising the operational weft and warp of the practice - not to mention the opportunities presented by a scalable, expansive and highly cost-effective IT delivery mechanism.

4. Choose a cloud services provider

The cloud computing model is still evolving but CIOs will want flexible, scalable access to public, private or even hybrid clouds. When selecting a Cloud service provider there are a number of key things to consider. These include:

  • How long has the Cloud provider been in business?
  • Are they financially stable?
  • Do they provide the flexibility you require?
  • How scalable is the service?
  • Where will your services / data be hosted?
  • Do they own the data centres where your services will be hosted?
  • Do they have the appropriate accreditations and certifications - such as ISO, PCI DSS?
  • What availability guarantees do they provide, is this backed by a comprehensive SLA?
  • Do they provide 24/7 support?
  • What is your exit strategy?

5. Gain access to the cloud

Ethernet connectivity was traditionally limited largely to selected urban areas, with coverage based on points of presence (POPs) in 40 metropolitan areas. But the arrival of BT's 21st Century Network (21CN), the multi-billion pound infrastructure project has created high bandwidth Ethernet networks nationwide.

It enables providers like Redcentric to provide more services to more customers across more areas of the UK than ever before, whilst also allowing us to reduce costs for bandwidth in locations other than metropolitan areas.

For the first time everyone has equal access to Cloud services, taking exactly what they need on a pay-as-you go, on demand basis. This gives them an adaptable, risk-free and hugely cost-efficient alternative to traditional commissioning, and a welcome option when current uncertainty is making long-term strategic IT planning problematic.

6. Provision services flexibly and reduce your carbon footprint

Cloud services can help fix one of the CIO's main problems - how to do more with less while reducing their carbon footprint. Few companies need to own all their IT kit, but they do want to choose what they do with their IT and where they do it. Businesses will keep control of some business critical systems and those that give them competitive advantage, but will want to seek lowest cost providers for the rest. By simply using what's required to satisfy business demands, over capacities are no longer required, which results in reduced monthly costs as well as a reduced carbon footprint.

7. Realise the full breadth of services delivered from the cloud

Companies can enjoy 'utility-like', pay as you go/grow access to a wide range of fully supported cloud services: in Redcentric's case, these include:

Infrastructure Services such as:

  • IaaS / Virtual Server Hosting
  • Database as a Service (DBaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS)
  • Cloud Storage
  • Data & Email Archiving services
  • Online Backup

Network Services such as:

  • IP-VPN
  • Firewalls / IPS / IDS
  • Voice QoS

Collaboration Services such as:

  • Cloud Telephony
  • Inbound Call Management
  • Hosted Exchange
  • Microsoft Lync (including IM / presence)
  • Video Conferencing

8. Use cloud services like an extension to your IT department

  • Increase or decrease usage of the services at any time and the charges will reflect that accordingly
  • Harness advanced technical infrastructure and associated human capital without the burden of ownership
  • Let the Cloud services provider take all the financial risk
  • Short-term projects can be delivered without any upfront capital expenditure
  • New sites and / or changing sites can be seamlessly accommodated without any upfront capital expenditure
  • Development cycles can be catered for by driving up usage during the test phase and scaling down usage once the production system is live
  • New business development projects and ideas can easily be tested without incurring any of the normal upfront costs and associated business risks
  • All services are delivered by one service delivery team and supported by one support team, with performance governed by one SLA

9. Adhere to your compliance requirements

Ensure that the Cloud services provider can meet all your business legislative and compliance requirements, such as Sarbanes-Oxley or the Data Protection Act. Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) dramatically changed the way companies' process and report sensitive financial information.

In 2002, following a series of high profile accounting scandals and high level corporate fraud, United States legislature enacted a law designed to hold executives and corporate officers of public companies accountable for reporting financial information: Sarbanes-Oxley. This is applicable for many UK subsidiaries of US based businesses. The EU directive 95/46/EC mandates appropriate safeguards for stored personal data to protect against unauthorized access to, or unauthorized alteration, disclosure or destruction of data.

Thus you need to assess your cloud services provider in regards to the:

  • Physical security of any hosting facility
  • Security of core network and remote network links into your network
  • Secure provision of servers and storage
  • Protection and (if necessary) encryption of data

10. Realise the benefits of cloud services

All IT services and applications are delivered centrally from within the cloud network, not from offices and are delivered consistently to both office and mobile staff. Cloud services are provided on-demand, allowing IT departments greater flexibility without the need for long term planning and charged on a pay-as-you-use basis, thus it enables IT staff to quickly and safely deploy new cloud services without employing in-house specialists to install and manage it.

All you need is:

  • A connection into the Cloud network, across which is delivered a choice of layered managed services
  • To decide which staff has access to the service and where the service is rolled out to
  • To set the correct user policy

In turn the Cloud service provider scopes the service based on your input and requirements, rolls out the service in full and hands over the operational service to you and provides the backend infrastructure, including data centres, core network and hardware / software and the ongoing management, monitoring and maintenance of these. Additionally the service availability is increased because the cloud services are an integral function of the network, similar to a carrier infrastructure.