Removing the mist surrounding the Cloud

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Advanced 365 highlights the key factors that organisations must consider before moving across to a cloud computing model.
The hype surrounding cloud computing is expected to reach unprecedented levels over the next few years. According to recent research by analyst Gartner, CIOs view the cloud as their top technology priority for 2011 and it expects the number of organisations using on-demand computing to rise to 43% within four years.

Despite being lured by the prospect of achieving significant cost savings and efficiency gains, not all organisations are ready to embrace cloud computing and some lack an adequate contingency plan in the event of it all going wrong. Neil Cross, Managing Director of leading managing services and cloud computing provider, Advanced 365, says that businesses should consider the following key factors before seeking to introduce cloud computing as part of their IT strategy.
Determine what you want to achieve and why
IT is about delivering improved business services, not just on ensuring the smooth-running of technology, so make sure you understand what you want to achieve as an organisation and why. Both public and private cloud options should be thoroughly reviewed alongside non-cloud alternatives with the benefits and drawbacks of each being given fair consideration. Moving to cloud computing just because it's the latest buzz in IT isn't a good enough reason and your project is likely to fail.
Understand your business drivers as well as the IT drivers
The pressure to achieve efficiency savings may encourage more IT teams to look at moving to a cloud computing model. However, it's essential that any changes made to IT infrastructure are suited to the needs of the business first rather than being modified to fit the IT department's preferred cloud platform.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
It might seem obvious, but make sure you plan thoroughly and decide how your chosen cloud solution is going to be integrated, managed and monitored. Although it's possible to access 'on demand' cloud services in a matter of minutes with the aid of a credit card, you should not become complacent about the level of planning that is required to ensure that your project is a success.
Reducing complexity is as important as reducing cost
Compared with managing your IT systems exclusively in-house, cloud computing may not be a cheaper option due to the additional costs of accessing cloud services on-demand and having to retrain your staff. Introducing a new cloud supplier to your business could also create more management complexity into your IT infrastructure if you're uncertain as to how this supplier will be managed and how you are going to link your various applications together.  
Think about the risks
Though cloud computing brings undoubted business benefits, organisations also need to consider carefully the potential risks. Is your data going to be held safely and securely on the cloud and are you satisfied that your cloud supplier is reliable and experienced enough to provide your business with the necessary service-level provision you require?
Choose the right partner
It is essential to work with specialist cloud partners that can manage their services in line with your organisation's requirements. Check that your partner can provide you with an end-to-end service combining service level management, service desk facilities, remote monitoring, advanced reporting capabilities and complete data transparency to help minimise the risk of integrating your systems into the cloud. You should pay particular attention to whether your cloud provider's service desks run 24/7 so that they can react quickly to keep downtime to a minimum.
Ensure your service level agreement is appropriate for your business
In the event of a business-critical application going down, you need to be reassured that your cloud provider has the expertise and skills to get it up-and-running again as quickly as possible. Ensure that your provider offers service level agreements (SLA's) that are appropriate for your business which cover almost any eventuality. The most effective cloud partners can offer multiple SLA's for a single customer giving the business peace-of-mind at all times.
The increase in acceptance towards cloud computing will undoubtedly lead to a surge in uptake as organisations continue to wrestle with having to make deep spending cuts. However despite the many advantages to be gained by embracing cloud applications, they do not represent a magic wand for organisations to solve existing business issues. It's important to consider the move to cloud computing very carefully and ensure that your organisation is practically and culturally ready to gain the most from what the cloud has to offer.

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