January 17, 2012

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Sky’s the Limit

Experts Discuss Cloud Computing

Utah Business Editors

January 17, 2012

Are you up in the air about joining the cloud? Local cloud computing experts Phil Robinson, CEO of i.t.NOW and Mariann McDonagh, CMO of inContact explain what cloud computing means to your business. What is cloud computing? McDonagh: Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand. Robinson: Cloud computing allows users and businesses to have an entire computer infrastructure available to them, without having to pay for an entire in-office computer infrastructure. How is it different than SaaS? McDonagh: SaaS, or software-as-a-service, is a cloud-based offering which enables companies to access business software applications online. Instead of buying servers and paying millions of dollars for licensed software, companies that choose the SaaS alternative can pay-as-they-go on a monthly basis. Robinson: Cloud computing, unlike SaaS, runs more than just one software application. It can be your entire environment. SaaS is usually just one application/function, but cloud computing has the capability to let you run everything in the cloud, both hardware and software. How can small companies use cloud computing services? Robinson: Any company, no matter how small or large, can use cloud computing services. Companies can start small by using a hosted exchange program, or they can use cloud services to host a website. With cloud computing, more and more applications can be gradually outsourced, bringing them closer to the cloud model. Cloud computing also helps companies cut down on in-house infrastructure. You can do more with less hardware, like thin-clients and net books, as opposed to powerful workstations that often need to be replaced every three years. Less hardware means fewer IT staff, which means lower overall operating costs. McDonagh: SaaS or cloud-based software offerings are the ideal fit for the small to midsized company. These offerings enable smaller organizations to tap into the power of enterprise software applications, making them more affordable. Instead of expensive upfront capital outlays, SaaS enables smaller companies to get new business software up and running quickly with minimal operating expense budgets. And because of the pay-as-you-go model, SaaS can be a great benefit for smaller companies that face spikes and dips due to seasonality. When is a company large enough to start its own, private cloud? Robinson: Any company can have its own private cloud. I have a client with five employees that uses a cloud-based solution. Cloud services allow a company of any size to run its entire server through one remote data center. McDonagh: The real benefit of the cloud is the outsourcing of key infrastructure and applications so that a company can focus its lean resources on what matters most to their business. So we don’t see a real benefit to a private cloud, which still needs to be managed and operated with staff resources. It’s not a paradigm shift in the way the multi-tenant cloud is, with lots of companies securely sharing the same infrastructure. What are the security concerns associated with cloud computing? Is it safe for my company? Robinson: It is safe but, like anything, there are risks involved. Cloud computing is only as secure as the company that’s hosting your environment. You should look at the company’s certificates and credentials. Think of it this way: Cloud computing is similar to working from home. The cloud doesn’t increase your security risk any more than working from home on a remote system. McDonagh: If anything, cloud computing is more secure, because your data is protected under lock and key at a certified data center. Unlike a typical office environment, where any employee potentially has access to the server’s hardware, cloud data centers are usually always protected from inside and outside factors. However, every SaaS vendor has different levels of controls, so it’s wise to take extra care when evaluating providers. Providers need to offer protection for sensitive customer data, such as credit cards or SSNs, and help their clients meet compliance regulations. Applications must be protected from intrusion and hacking that could seriously compromise the center’s functionality. And SaaS providers must employ physical security, including personnel, disaster recovery plans and redundancy. Ensuring the right answers to these key questions in the sales process is really critical. Are there any cons to cloud computing? Robinson: Speed would be the number one concern. You should also ensure that you have the same functionality that you had before. Also, you should look at compatibility between hardware, like webcams and scanners, which sometimes have problems interfacing with applications running remotely. Keep in mind that an Internet connection is mandatory in order to access data. McDonagh: The biggest challenge that we face today in the broad adoption of cloud computing is market understanding. With mega-brands like Microsoft getting into the cloud computing market, we believe that this gap in understanding will be quickly addressed and market adoption will continue to accelerate.
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