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Cloud computing: from consideration into action

IT innovation is often what keeps businesses at the forefront of any industry. Granted, some changes are more easily implemented than others. For instance, when social media emerged as a networking tool, no major overhaul of infrastructure was required. By putting in place a clear usage policy and managing security threats, businesses were able to utilise the productivity and business benefits of social technologies. However, some changes require much greater IT restructuring and planning. A recent survey reveals that transitioning to the cloud can indeed be one of the more challenging IT innovations.

The 2011 State of Cloud Survey from Symantec and Applied Research set out to examine exactly how organisations, both large and small, are adopting the cloud and what IT challenges they are facing. Interestingly, it seems that cloud computing is a top goal – and top concern – for businesses. Additionally, while the cloud is attracting a great deal of consideration, the reality is that many businesses have some reservations when it comes to implementing cloud computing.

Security is a top concern but it is not limiting cloud adoption

Ask any manager what matters most to their business, and you might hear answers like their reputation and their customer’s security. However, with more digital information being stored than ever before, businesses are increasingly being exposed to security risks. From sensitive data lost on a mobile device to advanced social engineering tactics from cybercriminals, the threat landscape is evolving rapidly.

Given the number of high profile data breaches that have made headlines this year, it’s not surprising that of the 5,300 organisations surveyed, security was their number one concern.  Businesses were apprehensive about issues including data leakage between customers and a third party, vulnerability to malware outbreaks, sharing sensitive data insecurely and theft of data by hackers.

Conversely, despite these concerns, security is not necessarily a deterring factor for businesses adopting the cloud. In fact, 86 percent of respondents believe that the cloud computing will either improve their security or have no impact. If implemented correctly, cloud computing can indeed improve security infrastructure. For instance, Symantec.cloud solutions offer 24 hour security support, and automatic updates on any external threats such as malware or vulnerabilities from hackers.

Getting ready to move

A move to the cloud requires confidence. Businesses need to ensure their information is secure, they have a high level of access and control over their data and that their solution fits within their budgetary requirements. A move like this requires experience.

With this in mind, more than half of the companies surveyed rated their IT staff as ‘less than somewhat prepared’ to handle the transition and only 15-18 percent said that they were extremely prepared. With less than one in four IT staff surveyed as having cloud experience, it’s this lack of familiarity that may be responsible for hesitation in the cloud.

While cloud computing is debatably still in its infancy stages, the lack of experience and knowledge about the benefits of the technology is also leading to a gap between expectations and reality. For example, many small businesses (86 percent) expected their IT agility to improve with a move to the cloud; while only 52 percent indicated that cloud computing has achieved this.

Similarly, 84 percent expected to see a reduction in their IT expenditure, but only just over half saw the expected results.  These gaps are not unexpected given that cloud is a maturing technology. However, by working with established providers and ensuring that strong service level agreements are in place, businesses will move closer to achieving the outcomes they are seeking.

Advice for adopting cloud computing

As businesses consider moving into the cloud, below are some tips that may make that transition smoother:

  • Accept the challenge: While 63-74 percent of Australian businesses are discussing cloud options, less than 15 percent have seen them fully implemented. IT managers need to take a proactive role in the change by taking control and educating IT staff and employees of the preparation
  • Establish the risks and the needs of your business: Research and review the costs, availability to data and the security concerns you may have. It is important to seek the expertise needed to approach your cloud goals. More than 70 percent of businesses said they were relying on external sources for cloud projects which is advisable if a lack of experience is holding you back
  • Use these risks to set up appropriate policies: Ensure that critical information is only accessible by authorised users and that sensitive information does not leave the company. Other vital processes such as disaster recovery should be discussed with cloud providers so that you have high availability and control over all applications and data in the case of disaster
  • Prioritise information into tiers: Not all of your information and applications are created equal. Perform an analysis and place your information and applications into tiers to determine what information  you feel comfortable moving to the cloud
  • Start now: If, after consideration, you don’t feel confident that your business is ready for a complete move to the cloud, start to have a look at the other cloud options available. For example, there are dual cluster solutions available immediately that don’t require a complete restructure of your IT but will showcase the benefits of cloud technology

Cloud computing does indeed offer significant benefits – these have been proven by many organisations around the globe. However, unlike simpler technologies, businesses will need to meet the change with some adjustments. With careful planning and experienced consultation, more businesses will be ready to cross the line from consideration and into action.

– David Dzienciol is vice president, Channels and SMB, Asia Pacific and Japan, Symantec.

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