Everything you need to know about the cloud

In 2008, NASA’s OpenNebula became the first open-source software for deploying private and hybrid cloud. Since then, ‘the cloud’ has been a sector of the tech industry that has snowballed at an alarming rate.

According to the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), 46 per cent of businesses in the UK now use ‘advanced’ cloud services for financial and accounting software, business applications or customer relationship management.

92 per cent of medium sized businesses say they use cloud services in one form or another, according to managed cloud services provider Adapt. Plus, research conducted on behalf of Outsourcery and CIF also finds that 78 per cent of public sector organisations have some form of cloud-based services in use today.

Statista reports that global cloud IT infrastructure revenue in Q1 2014 reached $5.2 billion, while the amount of cloud business traffic is expected to grow to 1,800 exabytes per year by 2017.

In its very basic form, cloud computing can be described as the use of networks of remote servers to store, manage and process data. But with a host of different cloud services out there nowadays – including pretty much anything you can think of followed by ‘as-a-service’ – the cloud computing sector can be confusing. In this article, we’ll aim to outline everything you need to know about the cloud by asking a number of experts in the field.

Since the cloud’s emergence in the 2000s, it’s been in the last couple of years that the market has become something businesses simply can’t ignore anymore.

Gartner says the cloud market has grown by an average of 32 per cent in 2015, with a projected annual growth rate of 29 per cent through 2019.

“With tech refreshes, firms are starting to compare the cost of hardware and data centre space to cost of migration to the cloud,” says Stephen Coty, chief security evangelist at Alert Logic.

“Connectivity and voice are essential for all businesses today. The cloud is a method of delivering those services in a more efficient, cost-effective way.”

John Carter, Cloud Telephones

“We have observed a move from talking about the cloud and early adopters to seeing it going mainstream,” adds Steve Haworth, Teleware CEO.

“In cloud communications, we have seen growth in the last six months greater than the last two years and this trend looks set to continue.”

Katie Armstrong, head of marketing at Brightsolid, comments: “We’ve seen the market shift from a fear of the ‘unknown’ to a much greater level of understanding and confidence in cloud tech.

“What’s notable is that a lot of cloud strategies, particularly in terms of applications, are driven by employees. The change to the way people work has created a need for flexibility, mobility and accessibility and cloud collaboration tools like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneNote are a necessity.

She adds: “Service providers realised years ago that not all clouds are created equal, there can’t be a one size fits all approach. So there are more options available.”

John Carter, MD of Cloud Telephones, believes it has taken time for users, and indeed resellers, to start trusting cloud solutions: “That is happening now though and more resellers are starting to make the switch from business models based on selling more products at lower prices, to one based on subscriptions that offer consistent, recurring income every month.”

So whether you’re thinking about integrating the cloud into your own business, or planning on selling it as part of your IT service offerings, it’s worth knowing the benefits the cloud can bring so you can determine what your needs are and reiterate to your customers why cloud is right for them.

Paul Lloyd, Evangelist at Entacloud, the new white label service from Entatech, believes agility is one of the biggest benefits: “The ability to have services available quickly and easily and to produce computing power on an adhoc utility basis means, over time, users can save costs through budgeting and predicting costs.”

Ravi Thakur, SVP customer success and service delivery at Coupa, agrees there are savings to be made from adopting a cloud approach as well as efficiency opportunities.

“The cloud presents the opportunity to drive things faster within a company with the technology you are picking up. It also eliminates some of the thinking process within a company that often complicates the decision making process,” he told PCR.

“As companies get bigger, decision making processes become more complicated. Cloud solutions eradicate many of these complications as they are more tightly limited on the choices available to users.”

Monica Brink, EMEA marketing director for iland, cites ‘transparency’ and ‘visibility’ as key to getting on board with the cloud.

“From our research conducted with Forrester Research in 2015, 60 per cent of the 275 IT decision makers surveyed said they could not grow their cloud footprint due to associated transparency, compliance and support issues. iland’s platform contests this perception, with customers complimenting the visibility of the data on the platform.”

As well as streamlining a business in terms of processes, Ash Patel, director of business transformation at Cobweb Solutions, details the extra support it can receive working with a cloud partner.

“By using a cloud solutions provider, businesses benefit from 24/7 access to IT support, along with increased resilience and reliability. Plus there are fewer in-house IT costs. What’s more, info is always available and there is less risk of data loss.”

There’s no denying the benefits that the cloud can bring, but with today’s businesses coming in all shapes and sizes, needing very different things from service providers and having an assortment budgets, one has to wonder if the cloud is right for everyone.

“There remains an underlying concern among UK organisations around data security in the cloud.”

Ash Patel, Cobweb

“There are many facets to this question,” says Matthew Finnie, CTO at Interoute. “But one thing is for sure, every business is moving towards becoming a digital business in some shape or form and cloud is a big enabler for this.”

“Cloud should be viewed as part of the digital ICT infrastructure platform that can deliver the tools and services that allow this model to happen.”

Cloud Telephones’ John Carter describes how cloud services such as VoIP are essential for businesses: “Connectivity and voice are essential for all businesses today, as are email and web access and many other services. The cloud is a method of delivering those services in a more efficient, manageable, scalable, cost- effective way.”

Carter believes that cloud will become the preferred and normal way of delivering IT and communications services, especially for SMBs: “They need the added flexibility that hosted voice and other cloud services give them to be always available and accessible, to never miss a call or an email, wherever they are.”

Teleware’s Steve Haworth agrees that almost all businesses can benefit from the cloud: “I think the larger enterprises will get more benefit from hybrid implementations where they can use the cloud for some elements and their own services for others. Some businesses may benefit from being 100 per cent in the cloud. It isn’t a one size fits all but everyone can benefit from the cloud in one form or another.”

While Coupa’s Ravi Thakur generally agrees that most businesses will benefit from the cloud, he warns: “You shouldn’t just go with the cloud for the sake of going with the cloud. Every company needs to make the decision about how best to run operations efficiently. It is safe to say that cloud is generally suited to most business processes, there might just be some specialist businesses that on-premise solutions are better suited to.”

Iland’s Monica Brink offers up this advice to those thinking about making the move: “While most companies will not be moving their entire IT footprint to the cloud anytime soon, there are clear benefits to using cloud agility for appropriate workloads.”

While cloud is generally considered to be safe by most, there are still some security issues surrounding it.

Andreas Olah, senior research analysis for servers and big data at IDC, tells PCR: “The public cloud is not necessarily less secure, in fact large providers have armies of the best security experts. Security issues are more around data ownership and worries about snooping by governments and cybercriminals especially when cross-border data transfers take place.”

Iland’s Monica Brink reveals that hacking attacks, viruses and employee negligence are all affecting IT organisations, and companies are struggling to apply the required levels of security to cloud workloads.

“This challenge is felt even more heavily amongst mid- market organisations that
may not have the budgets or manpower to throw at managing cloud security risks. The mid-market needs security that’s automated, simple and always working in the background, as well as security reporting metrics that are highly visible and simple to understand,” she says.

Cobweb’s Ash Patel adds: “There remains an underlying concern among UK organisations around data security in the cloud, particularly in light of a series of recent high profile and widely publicised cyber- attacks.” Despite this, Patel stressed that security concerns “should not deter organisations from drawing value from the raft of benefits that cloud computing offers”.

Coupa’s Ravi Thakur believes that most of the security issues around the cloud are based on how much emphasis your cloud provider places on security.

“IDC expects cloud infrastructure spending to rise from $4.3bn in 2014 to $5.2bn in 2015.”

Andreas Olah, IDC

“Most mature SaaS (security-as-a-service) providers have invested hugely in securing the data they house (technology and human capital), perhaps more than individual companies can afford to invest on their own. While security issues are evolving and hacking becomes more sophisticated, it is important to keep an eye on how the biggest companies are investing and how they are dealing with these security issues.”

So now we know how the cloud has evolved, what it can do for businesses and what service providers should know about this ever-expanding market, what’s in store for the cloud sector in the future?

“IDC expects cloud infrastructure spending (across servers, storage, ethernet networks and security appliances) to rise from $4.3bn in 2014 to $5.2bn in 2015,” says IDC’s Andreas Olah.

“More and more Big Data and analytics workloads are moving to the cloud. IDC expects that the public cloud share of storage capacity deployed for Big Data in EMEA will rise from 25 per cent in 2015 to 55 per cent by 2019.”

Brightsolid’s Katie Armstrong reveals: “At the time of writing this, our head of emerging technologies, Kenny Lowe, was in Malta at the 20th EMEA Cloud and Hosting Club Executive Roundtable with Microsoft. I asked him to put this question to the panel and the feedback was: “The evolution of specialist clouds in service providers. Things like the Internet of Things clouds and further evolved community clouds for the public sector are really starting to take off.”

Alert Logic’s Stephen Coty adds: “Cloud is the future of computing. It will follow the trends of the mainframe, Novell, and AD in time as technology advances and innovation occurs. Cloud right now is the most innovative and secure place to place your data today.”

We’ll leave you with this bold statement from Marcus Kellman, head of technical sales and pre-sales at Solgari: “Not since Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone has tech unleashed such a huge change in how companies operate and communicate through the movement from hardware to cloud software.”

Throughout January, PCR is running a dedicated Sector Spotlight on The Cloud – click the logo below for more articles

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