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On-premise versus cloud computing – what’s the difference?

Here’s what you can expect if you’re thinking about shifting your IT services to the cloud.

Back in the 1990s, there was little choice for business when it came to creating an information technology infrastructure. Staff were equipped with desktop computers or laptops and a computer room (or its nearest equivalent) housed the servers that ran the company’s software applications. The day-to-day requirements of backing up, maintenance and basic troubleshooting meant some kind of in-house IT expertise was essential. On top of this was the need to manage and maintain email and internet services. However, in a bid to reduce overheads, increase up-time and gain access to expert support, these were frequently managed by external IT consultants.

These days it’s a different world. Creating an IT capability no longer automatically equates to a room full of hardware and an IT department. The widespread availability of cloud computing has opened up new options for business managers and owners.

Cloud computing is a model of delivering IT services and applications via the Internet or across a private network. The business still requires desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones or other mobile devices to access the IT systems, but the hardware is housed elsewhere and the services or applications can be accessed from anywhere, any time, as long as you have an Internet connection.

The cloud model has been gathering interest for the past few years and this year many analysts, including Frost & Sullivan, believe that it will become mainstream.

Cost and Expertise

One of the big factors in the take-up of the cloud is its utility based costing. You pay for what you use, generally on a monthly basis. Compare this to the upfront investment required for on-premise hardware and the attraction is obvious.

Cloud services costs are determined by the needs of your applications, the number of users, the performance and type of support you require. Once your supplier has a firm idea of what you’ll require, all these elements will be documented in detail in an agreement that commits your supplier to agreed minimum levels of acceptable service.

Another reason for the popularity of cloud services is that it shifts responsibility for what can sometimes be a major internal headache, to an accountable third party. Service, support and system management become much easier when handed over to experts.

For example, if at any time you need to increase the number of users, add an application or increase minimum performance, the changes can be made almost instantly. There’s a degree of flexibility and scalability that is rarely achieved with a fixed capacity on-premise solution.

In addition, the cloud service business relies on suppliers having the skills and equipment on hand to keep your systems running. Reliability and uptime are paramount so suppliers design their hardware and services to ensure maximise up time, building in redundancy so that if even one element in the infrastructure fails, your applications will continue to operate.

Using the same logic, a cloud service has to be secure, safe and capable of recovering swiftly should disaster strike. Cloud hosts dedicate a lot of time to ensuring this so many businesses will quite probably find that these aspects of their system improve in the cloud. 

When to consider making the shift

For most organisations, any consideration of cloud computing is likely to be triggered by change.  It may be that you need to replace old hardware, upgrade for better performance, or you’re thinking about deploying a new business application. Rather than automatically continuing with the on-premise computing model, this is the ideal time to weigh up the benefits that cloud offers.

Begin by specifying exactly what you want from your IT infrastructure – the applications you require, the performance you’ll need and how the system will be used. Then think about the cost, maintenance, service and security implications for both on-premise and cloud models.

Even if you wish to maintain certain specialised software applications on your own premises, the odds are that a large part of your infrastructure (and your bottom line) would benefit from the shift to flexible, scalable, secure cloud services.

– Shane Muller is the managing director at OBT .

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