Whether your organization is jumping full force into cloud computing or hanging back and assessing options carefully before deciding if the cloud can benefit your organization, there's no question that IT shops are being changed by the industry's drive toward cloud delivery. However, it's equally clear that not every change is for the best. The challenge for IT pros is to find the cloud computing models that can aid your organization without sacrificing data security, organizational efficiency, and business productivity.
You've probably heard all the standard complaints against the cloud: can't guarantee security; can't access data or applications if the service or your connection goes down; no visibility into where your data is stored. Of course, these problems are real, and not something you can just gloss over. Yes, you do need to consider your back up plans, your legal obligations, and everything else very carefully—just as you do for your on-premises deployments.
It seems that sometimes there's a feeling that when you move something to cloud computing, you wash your hands of responsibility, and that simply isn't the case. Walter Scott, CEO of GFI Software, said, "When you put all your data in the hands of the software vendor, their SLA becomes very important." You need to be sure you know exactly what they're guaranteeing to your organization—something to be certain of before entering into any agreement—and keep track of whether they're delivering.
Last week, GFI added patch management capabilities to its GFI Cloud, which lets IT shops run administrative functions from a single web-based console, including antivirus/anti-malware, network monitoring, and asset/inventory management. "We believe that making those applications and services very simple to consume is very important," Scott said. Adding patch management to this picture increases the security abilities in GFI Cloud and helps SMBs stay secure.
And that's a big point. Scott also noted that, with the ephemeral nature of the Internet, SMBs are becoming a little complacent about security. Employees are themselves all too familiar with the cloud for personal computing, using Dropbox for sharing files or Instagram for storing photos. When they need those same capabilities at work, why wouldn't they go to the same sources? If IT hasn't provided a sanctioned option, employees will do precisely what they already know. In the end, as Scott said, "Small business is willing to trade security for convenience."
The big question that arises is: Who owns the data? An employee can store business data in an account created with a personal log on and also containing personal data. If the employee leaves the company, what happens to the business data stored in this manner? Depending on the industry or your geographical locale, you might also have legitimate concerns for data residency restrictions in these scenarios. These issues are all important for the IT department to be aware of and know its responsibilities when you no longer have direct control over the data.
Cloud Computing Goodness
The cloud isn't all bad news. Just as the traditional complaints are real, so too are the many touted benefits of cloud computing: regular, predictable costs through a subscription model; freeing IT from routine tasks on non-essential systems; quicker upgrades to new features. With strapped IT budgets, renting over buying seems like a great way to quickly offer employees the tools they need, particularly for SMBs.
Cloud computing is changing IT in more subtle ways as well, even for those organizations that have chosen (so far, at least) to stick with on-premises software. At a virtual conference last week about Microsoft Exchange Server 2013, SharePoint 2013, and Office 365, the keynote featured a panel discussion from experts on each of these Microsoft technologies. The question was put before the panel about whether there was any future for on-premises software.
The feeling was that on-premises software isn't going away. Many organizations have integrated systems in place that can't readily be duplicated with a cloud model at this point, and the data residency issue comes up again—some organizations have requirements to hold tight to their data. However, as Microsoft Exchange MVP Tony Redmond said, "On-premises software is definitely improving because of the service."
In other words, as companies offer their own software in a service model, they have to learn more about what it means to run that software, and then their development efforts can focus on further improving their products both for the cloud and on-premises offerings. Companies such as Microsoft running Office 365 have had to learn when things are difficult to configure or manage, or when hacks were necessary to fix something. "The lessons of automation, the lessons of simplicity, and the lessons of making things easier to manage are coming through and are a very strong influence over on-premises software," Redmond said.
SharePoint MVP Dan Holme had a similar comment: "What we're learning from delivering cloud services and architecting software for cloud services is going to thoroughly change the way software is built. And so I don't think people will be building software in the old ways in the future. Obviously, there's a transition, but I think even on-premises software will be cloud software." With Microsoft developing both cloud and on-premises software together, we know it's likely we'll see updates and new features in the service first, which will later be combined for an update to the on-premises version.
Silver Lining for IT
"There are always going to be devices behind the firewall," Scott said. "There's going to be something to manage." So no matter where your organization is with regards to cloud computing, your IT teams still has work to do. You can expect it to be different from what it's always been in the past, changing due to the unavoidable march to the cloud. What is it Rafiki tells Simba in The Lion King? You can either run from change or learn from it. Don't make someone whack you with a stick before you understand what the cloud means to your organization.