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Getting ahead in the cloud
August 1st 2011 -

The big discussion in information technology circles has been about cloud computing – that is, using scalable virtual servers available over the internet instead of relying on in-house hardware and infrastructure. But the reality is that not every business needs this sort of technology or is even well-suited for it. Before you buy into the hype, take a moment to understand what it means for you and your business.

Where is your business going?

Hardware and software investment follows a typical stair-step philosophy… when your business reaches the threshold of its current technological capacity, the step up to the next larger platform represents a larger-than-necessary investment and then results in too much capacity for the reality of the need it is intended to fulfill. So even if you are prepared to invest in that next upgrade, is it even a wise investment? Cloud computing is like fractional ownership in technology, which makes it much easier to match the capacity being offered to the current and shortly-projected need. From a budgetary standpoint, it spreads out that expense to keep pace with the utilization, working under a very basic principle that increased capacity indirectly correlates to increased productivity and therefore increased revenue.

So if your business is consistently growing and it seems like upgrades have become a way of life, maybe it is time to re-invest that effort and expense into a simpler and more scalable technology strategy that promises more bang for your buck and fewer late-night headaches over persistent under-capacity and failure.

Where are you doing business?

Cloud computing is in the same realm as SaaS, or software as a service, and as such you are paying for capacity as well as service that is 24-7. Therefore, in a business that has employees and/or customers who will need access to information across time zones or anytime, cloud computing offers real-time on-demand access to information with the ubiquity of the internet. If your business operates almost exclusively within a physical location and/or strictly within business hours, then it’s far less likely that the cloud offers you any strong selling points.

What is your tolerance for downtime?

To reiterate, cloud computing technology is a 24-7 service… but as with any service, there is the potential for downtime. It’s simply the reality of technology. The big question for you is, “What is your tolerance level for downtime and how much are you willing to pay to mitigate it?” For instance, a service boasting 99% reliability will experience a average cumulative downtime of 1.68 hours per week. This is not including scheduled downtime for routine maintenance, which is decidedly planned to not coincide with peak demand hours. In contrast, a service with a stellar 99.999% reliability will experience an average of only 6 seconds of downtime per week – but those extra 9s can cost up to 10 times the amount of the basic service with lower reliability. So you have to decide just how mission-critical is your business and if possible develop technologies and strategies that combat potential downtime issues. You may find that these strategies come at a far smaller price tag than the premium you’ll pay for subjective piece of mind.

The other factor here is your own infrastructure. The cloud service provider can hardly be held accountable if the fault lies in your own infrastructure or choice of internet solution. You need to assess the ‘big picture’ and understand where the most likely point of failure will be before you start pouring money into reinforcing what may already be the best-fortified component in your technology solution.

How secure is secure enough?

Understand that when you consider a cloud solution, you are essentially buying into a fractional ownership model of technology. Therefore, your data is being housing on the same systems that host other businesses’ data as well. This sort of virtualization means that you cannot simply lay your hands on the physical device that possesses your data, nor can you absolutely ensure the dissemination of information. For some industries, this is simply not a feasible solution and therefore they will continue to necessitate in-house data centers to maintain the most absolute control over their proprietary data as well as sensitive client information. In fact, laws exist that specifically prohibit certain types of industries from utilizing cloud solutions for their data hosting needs. Additionally, it is important to understand where your data resides due to differences in international laws pertaining to the storage and privacy of data. You would not want to find yourself embroiled in some kind of international dispute over the ownership of data with your valuable business data being at the center of the controversy.

How reliable is the service provider?

As with the advent of any emerging technology, there is a multitude of players and some are more reputable than others. You’ll want to shop around, ask for references and examine case studies to determine if a service provider is capable of hosting your cloud computing solution. To be diligent beforehand will save an abundance of regret later. Companies with higher turnover rates or offering deals too-good-to-be-true may indeed be too good to be true and you could find yourself shopping again in a few months – not to mention the potential loss of data if they simply close up shop without warning. You can also enter the company’s name into search engines and also chat up other IT professionals to get a sense of a company’s stability and performance. Chances are that if a service provider is less than reliable then people will be talking about it.

Helios Enterprise = Cloud Computing?

While Helios Enterprise is not technically a cloud computing solution in the purest sense of the term, it is a tremendous step in the direction towards cloud computing technology and ultimately a stepping stone to bringing the cloud concept to the tanning industry. While it’s still in the conceptualization phase, the next version of Helios promises to truly embrace the cloud technology which will represent a significant benefit for the migration to a SaaS model and even provide more flexibility in terms of pricing and flexibility in feature offerings.

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