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Making sense of the cloud

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Cloud technology is firmly established in South Africa with many companies already on board, leveraging the many benefits, writes Sadiq Munshi, head of product development at Jasco Enterprise.
However, in a marketing laden world where the word ‘cloud’ has been bandied about as technology’s answer to every problem, confusion abounds. There are still a number of people who are curious about cloud and are asking, “what is cloud, and does it make sense?”. It is a question that should not be considered lightly, given the business impact of investing in the cloud. So, does cloud make sense, really?
Cloud services are – at the most basic level – typical IT services that are hosted off site (not on your own premises). They require Internet connectivity to work, and are billed on a monthly basis. What this means is that organisations don’t need to invest in hardware, owned software and even platforms for multiple IT functions, such as telephony, contact centres and data storage systems. Of course, there are a number of benefits to migrating your IT systems to the cloud, but there is a flipside too.
A cloud solution may not be the right fit for the business, or it may not be effective for the requirement. Perhaps the best question to ask, then, is: “Does cloud make sense for my business?”
Cloud solutions are intended to deliver standard, ‘vanilla-type’ solutions to the mass market. Generally speaking, they are meant to address the common, or similar, requirements of the most number of users at the same time. Because of this, typical cloud solutions are ideal for SMEs who do not have very complex systems and do not require much – if any – customisation. In such cases, cloud services become incredibly attractive as they are simple, easy to use and comprehensive while remaining very competitively priced particularly as no capital outlay is required.
These standard cloud offerings are also well suited to organisations that are dynamic and agile, requiring fluid and flexible IT solutions.  Where a SME or larger company requires a hosted solution that is not strictly standard and needs greater customisation, cloud becomes a lot more complex and it becomes necessary to weigh pros and cons carefully before undertaking the decision to migrate.
Cloud makes a lot of sense for organisations that are looking to leverage a particular technology without having the means or desire to purchase and maintain the equipment. Such organisations can make use of cutting edge systems without investing in infrastructure, and can – in some instances – even trial the system to check for suitability. In instances where a technology needs to be adopted temporarily or to achieve a faster speed to market, cloud is again a definite winner.
Cloud is also sensible where an organisation needs to centralise their systems, allowing for multi-location, or multi-branch access. Cloud makes centralisation much easier as very little, if any, complex network structures and on-site software needs to be deployed. Further instances where cloud makes sense is wherever an organisation needs to opt for an OPEX model to mitigate capital expenditure, or where an organisation is looking to shift the focus of their IT team from maintenance of existing systems to optimisation instead. Cloud’s ability to remove the responsibility of maintenance from the company means that IT team can expend their energies on innovation and optimisation.
So, cloud sounds really good, but does it make sense for you? If you’ve already invested a significant amount of capital in existing infrastructure and it is not outdated or end-of-life, then probably not. If you’ve deployed systems that require complex integration and development, then cloud is unlikely to make sense to your business.
If your company culture and processes are established and not very flexible, then cloud may not be the answer – at least, not without implementing cultural changes and effecting people change management. If your company is situated in an area where bandwidth is a problem and connectivity is unstable or poor, then cloud is definitely not the sensible option.
Finally, you need to ensure the cloud solution you select is wholly stable and secure if being chosen for mission critical applications, so that you are assured of its effectiveness, security and availability.
Marketing hype has done a brilliant job of painting cloud services as being the solution to virtually every business need. And while cloud services can be the answer to many problems and can certainly make sense in many instances, it is vital that organisations be completely aware of what a cloud solution entails and whether or not it makes sense for your requirements before signing up.
Having a knowledgeable team, a system integrator that is more a partner than service provider, and by making use of expert consultants, you can ensure that all options are properly measured and weighed so that you end up with a solution that makes perfect sense for your business, whether cloud or not.