Belfast Telegraph

Cloud has a silver lining

Does cloud computing live up to the hype, or is it|just another ICT fad? Andy Ross, Chief Executive, Northgate Managed Services, cuts out the jargon

Even if you’re not an IT professional, it’s difficult to avoid the debate about cloud computing.

We hear a lot about cloud but do we really know what it’s all about and more importantly what we should be doing about it? Is it just the latest fad that our IT teams are getting very excited about, or is there more substance to cloud computing?

Just like the real thing, there are different types of cloud, which fall broadly into public or private cloud headings. Big names including Google, Facebook and have helped to create awareness of the public cloud. Google Mail, documents and apps are all examples of widely adopted public cloud services — initially for use at home but more and more organisations are looking to take advantage of these cloud services in their organisations.

So what has charged our interest in cloud computing?

The economic storms that continue to roll across the country are certainly driving us to look at each and every option for reducing our costs — regardless of whether we are running a private or public organisation. As the economic climate has become more volatile we need to be able to respond quickly. To weather the storm, at times we need to be more agile and better able to respond to opportunities or threats by scaling up or down — and fast.

To react to changing market opportunities, developing and taking new products to a global marketplace has to happen faster than ever. We need to constantly improve the quality of our services and products, and strive to improve our customer experience. With IT at the heart of the organisation this means more and more pressure on our IT resources. We need reliable systems, accessible from wherever and whenever we need them, and we need them to be secure. Restrictions on access to capital to invest in our organisations is also encouraging us to look for rental or leasing models — we’ve done it for everything from cars to buildings, so why not our IT assets?

So the question then becomes: can cloud computing deliver any or all of these business needs? It almost seems too good to be true. If moving your infrastructure and software to the cloud reduces operational costs and improves business agility, why haven’t more of us taken the plunge?

The need for security is certainly one reason. We like to know exactly where our data is, who has access to it and if we want to, how we can retrieve it. This need to ensure security of our data, systems and people has held us back from widely adopting some of the public cloud services. For many organisations, the cost advantages of the public cloud haven’t been enough for us to satisfy our concerns over security and privacy.

However, the emergence of private clouds may well be the answer, particularly if we have previously utilised and understood the benefits of traditional outsourcing models. Unlike the public cloud, with a private cloud you can see and touch the datacentre that hosts your services and build in the levels of security that you need to help you sleep soundly at night. If you need more resources, these are available within minutes — not weeks or months as we’ve grown used to. All of this comes at a cost, but the cost is a monthly charge based on what you’ve used, releasing you from the pressure of investing based on what you might need in two or three years’ time.

So how do you get from where you are now to the cloud?

There are few of us who have the luxury of starting with a blank page and completely redesigning our infrastructure. We need to take time to really understand what we have in place and focus on the parts that we need to fix now. An email system which is no longer stable or has grown out of all proportion and is costing you time and money just to keep it alive might be a good place to start. Many of us still haven’t taken advantage of convergence technologies that help us reduce our network costs and improve staff abilities to collaborate with colleagues regardless of location. The reason — a large upfront investment. A private cloud could bring this all within your reach.

Each organisation will be different, so plotting your individual path to the cloud is vital — leaping into a great unknown isn’t what we are comfortable with, so a good cloud roadmap is the sensible approach. A roadmap will be unique to your organisation as it aligns with your company strategy to bring real business benefits.

Widespread adoption of private clouds isn’t going to happen overnight but as we see our competitors reaping the benefits from the clouds we’ll all be looking to the skies to ensure we are maximising the potential of these flexible technical and commercial models to help us build solid sustainable organisations.

Northgate Managed Services provide infrastructure and cloud-based services to public, private and third-sector organisations and specialist managed services in the education, government, utilities and charities sectors. For further information, tel: 02890859085, or visit

Belfast Telegraph