More companies are realizing the economic benefits of moving mission-critical applications to the cloud and taking advantage of the chance it affords them to focus on their own core competence, which for most companies is not IT management. These early adopters have also recognized that the appropriateness of cloud computing varies by the "flavor" of the service, from Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to Software as a Service (SaaS).
Moving along the spectrum from on-premise computing to IaaS and ultimately to SaaS brings increasing economies of scale as greater portions of the technology stack are shared across the client base. Whereas IaaS saves businesses money via shared hardware, real estate, and power, SaaS achieves even greater economies of scale with shared applications, some key examples being Google Apps, Salesforce and NetSuite.
Many leading SaaS vendors have strong track records of reliability and security. Delivering this value is their specialty. To perpetuate that reputation, they invest far more in securing their environments than most non-cloud-computing companies do securing their own data centers.
Given this dedicated attention to security, trepidation about the safety of the cloud is largely unfounded. It's a psychological fear, akin to believing money under the mattress is safer than money in the bank. Overcoming this fear, both by understanding the provider's capabilities and by negotiating the appropriate service-level agreements (SLA), will allow companies to reap the savings associated with moving mission-critical applications to the cloud.
Economic arguments may not be as strong when it comes to justifying the use of IaaS, but the advantages lie in provider resilience - the ability of these vendors to offer greater performance in terms of reliability and scalability than customers do on their own. While individual companies have to build out infrastructure to handle peak loads, cloud providers offer an elastic approach of scaling resources that is more efficient and cost effective.
Reported outages and cloud service disruptions, however, are increasing potential users wariness. Not long ago, for instance, an Amazon data center went offline, affecting popular websites like Reddit, FourSquare and Pinterest. Wide reporting on this event - which unluckily affected social media sites, and hence a large number of users - has driven concerns about potential lapses in availability among cloud providers. But such problems are particularly visible because of their high-profile nature. Outages of this kind are far more common in enterprises that manage their own infrastructure.
Reliability and continuity, particularly in the face of major natural disasters, is in fact much better in the cloud. At IEEE, for example, we were fortunate enough to have moved many of our applications to cloud providers prior to Superstorm Sandy, the late-October storm that ravaged the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states. In New Jersey, where IEEE's operations headquarters is located, widespread power outages were accompanied by a fuel distribution crisis that stymied not only motor vehicle traffic, but also back-up generators. However, since part of our business continuity strategy included the use of SaaS and IaaS for many applications, our management of key applications was far easier and more reliable.
To further alleviate concerns about security and availability, companies can often negotiate SLAs with the cloud provider. These contracts are promises to address the chief concerns of businesses, whether they be performance, response time, scalability or some other metric. Specifying these parameters in an SLA provides the security of recourse if the levels are not met. Though many cloud computing companies don't immediately offer SLAs, it is typically a point for negotiation.
In summary, businesses that are hesitant about moving their essential applications to the cloud should not let fear stop them. They should evaluate providers' track records of reliability to deliver secure and consistent services, and negotiate SLAs so they can begin to take advantage of the economic opportunities offered by mission-critical applications in the cloud.
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