Cloud services – one size does not fit all – iTWire

GUEST OPINION by Jamie Atherton, country manager ANZ, Hyland:  As digital transformation continues to drive new solutions and services across the A/NZ region and organisations look for more flexible options, moving some, or all services to the cloud is becoming the deployment choice for many.

While on-premises deployments are still a valuable option in some circumstances, a growing majority of companies are shifting their IT protocols to support cloud-based, multi-cloud or hybrid environments which provide the best balance of flexibility, availability and cost-effective delivery of services. However, not all services are the same, and a careful evaluation of the positives and potential drawbacks of each model is required, in order to ensure that the organisation maximises the agility, speed, security, affordability and delivery they can derive from their chosen model.

According to a recent report by Gartner, the cloud market in Australia is expected to exceed $10.6 billion in 2021, an increase of 18.4 percent from 2020.

There are a number of reasons why a move into the cloud makes sense. Right up front, it removes the age-old challenge of budgeting for large-scale implementations, and the associated effort of saving up funds – or approaching the board and explaining how a software solution is going to improve operations, and why that necessitates a large outlay of funds.

Cloud services that are administered on the vendor side can either be owned by the vendor itself, or leased and administered by them. If a vendor owns their own data centres, the onus to efficiently manage that centre, as well as the delivery and ongoing maintenance of the software and applications they provide, falls on the vendor.

The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, of course, relies on monthly subscriptions, and therefore negates any large up-front investment. This also means that the software platform is maintained and administered by the vendor, leaving less hands-on work for an organisation’s IT team. Upgrades, updates and security patches are performed in the cloud, which negates the time, effort and headaches related to making major changes to a platform. Cloud-based updates can be rolled out continuously, with little to no disruption to the end user and providing the most up-to-date version of the platform.

In the past, an IT administrator would sacrifice a night of sleep in order to perform updates so that business could continue uninterrupted the next day with an updated application. Cloud-based software is updated and maintained with a much higher frequency, taking place automatically at scheduled times. This means that services are always available, and business operations can continue with a minimum amount of disruption.

When it comes to cloud conversations, content security is another major priority driving transitions from legacy on-premises platforms to modern solutions. A reputable cloud-based platform will have high-level security built in, as well as enterprise-grade security at the data centre level.

However, cloud services are not one-size-fits-all.  As efficient and easy as it is to have software stored and maintained in the cloud, there is still the expectation that services are properly administered on the vendor side. This means that all applications, files and other content are accessible and available 100 percent of the time – or as close to that figure as possible. This necessitates working with a vendor that has a good reputation for managing its software in the cloud, and one that provides a very high level of uptime.

Finally, when evaluating cloud platforms, the data centre model itself should be evaluated as well, and judged on its merits. Will applications be stored in the vendor’s own data centre, co-located in a shared space, or on third-party hardware?

In instances where content is stored in a vendor’s own data centre, the vendor must maintain that centre, as well as the content within it, and ensure that the service is seamless, fast and ultimately secure.

It is not necessarily the role of a third-party data centre to maintain the deployment of services and applications, should an organisation choose services that are stored and provided by a public cloud offering. While the data itself will certainly be monitored, and strict security still applied, the actual management and ownership of the deployment does not reside with the data centre, so the overall level of involvement and buy-in is not the same. The vendor will be responsible for actively managing the cloud environment in which its software resides, and ensuring that the delivery to the end user is optimal at all times. This adds a level of complexity to a deployment for the vendor, as they need to manage both their relationship with the customer – application and content delivery for example – as well as their relationship with the cloud service provider.

If content and data reside outside the organisation’s premises in a vendor-owned data centre, risk is generally reduced. It is further reduced if that data is replicated to more than one location. On-premise deployments are only as safe as the organisation’s own hardware, and will generally not have the same level of high-grade security, failovers, redundancy and disaster recovery (DR) as a professional-grade data centre.

A vendor’s data centre space itself is likely to be purpose-built, with high grade air-conditioning, uninterrupted and backup power supplies, storm and weather-proof and include enterprise-grade levels of security.  All this adds up to a safer, lower-risk environment for hosting content in the cloud.

Using a vendor’s hardware for cloud services also removes the capital expenditure required to house that data within the organisation – not to mention the cost involved in running it efficiently. It reduces the need for IT resources being deployed to constantly monitor and maintain the hardware, there are no end-of-life replacement expenses, or the need for continuous upgrades and expansions. Again, the onus all lies with the vendor, with the cloud environment managed and optimised by them with the overriding objective of delivering the best possible outcomes to customers.

A cloud services model also works best for public sector bodies, who often require data to be stored in more than one location, and have strong governance around the movement of data. In most cases, governments will not allow data to leave the physical bounds of their country. This means that the data must be stored either in a hybrid-cloud scenario, or at two separate, locally-based data centres. Vendors who want to work in the public sector will be aware of this, and have very tight governance and visibility over the data of all their customers, both public and private sector.

Cloud services are of high value for organisations looking to modernise and keep pace with the rapidly evolving business world because they offer flexibility, cost savings, security and high levels of business continuity required to meet today’s standards. Not every model works for every organisation, so it pays to be diligent and find the right fit.