In the past when I’ve been asked this question I’ve talked about getting the investment in infrastructure right, and having an accountable support structure in place to ensure time is spent on proactive management instead of constant fire fighting.
I’m now starting to talk about investing in redundant internet connections to ensure an ongoing connection to cloud-based solutions (either public clouds or private clouds in stable server farm environments).
So, what are public clouds and private clouds and how do you know what to use when? And, no, there aren’t any cows wandering around in server farms! It’s just another term for your set of servers in a data centre.
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I like to think of public cloud as utility computing. Instead of running your own generator to produce electricity, you connect your home and office to the power grid. So, essentially, public cloud refers to a large-scale server solution offered to a large number of people where you get a slice of a system or application you require. Examples of this are Yahoo EC3 offering virtual server space, or Google-Apps and Microsoft Office365 offering online applications to one and all. There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of this sort of offering in the marketplace and the offerings are growing every day from CRM applications to accounting solutions.
Another huge benefit of public cloud solutions is that they look after the backup and DR, so you remove this often overlooked overhead from your list of IT issues. Of course, if you have a loss of connection at the office you also have the option of using a mobile device to make direct access to your cloud-based solution, giving you even more redundancy.
On the other hand, private cloud is where a company places its own servers into a data centre and makes them available to a controlled list of internal staff or clients for their own applications and storage solutions. There are many forms of this out there as well.
It is not yet entirely clear when to use public cloud and when to go private. Each requirement needs to be looked at and options considered for quality, security, robustness and total cost.
There are issues with security including where data resides and who has access to it at a government level. Certainly, for politically sensitive information public cloud is a big no. For the SME sector, where your leaked data is unlikely to make it to WikiLeaks, the issue may be more about the access controls and the quality of the security systems that stops your competitors and other hackers accessing your information stored online.
Other issues around quality of the infrastructure used and time delays accessing information stored on servers too far from you (such as in America) also need to be understood before your selections are made.
Now is definitely a good time to be researching cloud-based solutions, keeping in mind how stable and secure they are, and how they can reduce downtime in your business. Solutions like Office365 by Microsoft and Telstra are claiming they will offer 99.9% uptime so less than 45 minutes a month of down time or less than nine hours a year. There are many other public cloud offerings that offer the same or better. Private cloud solutions will be dependent on the quality of the data centre you select and the robustness of the infrastructure installed.
As with other complex technology decisions, seek advice from a good advisor to reduce your research effort and ensure sound strategic decisions are made to minimise wasting of resources, time and effort and to ensure IT is enabling your growth.
This article was first published in December 2010.
David Markus is the founder of Combo – the IT services company that ensures IT is never an impediment to growth.