As cloud technology has grown, new options are available for businesses besides traditional locally-hosted information technology solutions. How should a business decide what cloud technologies to adopt, as well as when to keep or develop resources in-house?
Christopher Coleman, IT coordinator for Louisiana Tech University, says going with a cloud solution — in which resources such as computers, networks, storage, apps and data are controlled by another company — can save a business money.
“Cost-efficiency is the biggest benefit to using a cloud service because the company is providing productivity to many different vendors, thereby decreasing cost to maintain these services,” Coleman says.
There are some trade-offs when using cloud technologies. Control of data is of paramount concern for some organizations. By using a cloud service, a business relinquishes some power and control over its technology.
“Your data and productivity is living on someone else’s server, in a separate location that you cannot physically get to,” Coleman said. With an on-premises solution, a company has access to their day-to-day operations whenever they need it as long as those networks are properly maintained.
James Hwang, chief operating officer of NexusTek, a cloud technology, managed IT and cybersecurity consulting firm based in Denver, says a business must not rely just on cloud security, but must consider physical aspects of security when using these services, such as, “how is it encrypted, what levels of encryption are there and who has the roles and roles-based access.” A third issue to consider is what access specific users have and who does the logging when the products or data are accessed.
Whether the cloud is more or less secure than a local IT department depends on what kind of security policies are in place. With either choice, malware and anti-virus software must be updated regularly to flesh out threats. Risk assessments must be performed often. New ways to break in to a company’s servers or use their connection for malicious intent are constantly evolving, so staying on top of security is of the utmost importance. Within the cloud services provided by Cisco, Microsoft, Google and others, there are entire departments set up to detect nefarious activities.
“NexusTek partners with organizations to assure security and recommends utilization of a cloud service and some kind of redundant service to ensure security” and maximum uptime and best recovery time, Hwang said.
Amassing a strong IT department locally takes more capital and manpower than many organizations can afford. Costs can include hiring a network administrator, buying the servers, storage and licensing for software. Cloud technology is a good option for companies that do not have the resources to provide themselves with the kind of security which may, according to Hwang, require more than 20 different IT specialists.
One of the largest benefits for using the cloud involves disaster recovery. When housing IT services locally, one of the most significant problems arises when there are geographic failures or natural disasters. This is when Hwang recommends a hybrid approach.
“In some cases you should have your production via the cloud and maybe your recovery time (or) point objective locally or with a different cloud service,” Hwang said. “You might be cloud today for production, but you may need something on premises to recover very quickly because your recovery time objective may be much longer. In the event of a failure, the last instance can be recovered as long as there is power.”
Coleman says Louisiana Tech utilizes both local IT and cloud solutions. “Some organizations use a hybrid of cloud technology and locally controlled IT technology to cut down on the cost of maintaining a large network and of obtaining the hard drives and other hardware necessary for such a task,” he said.
Local IT is used at Louisiana Tech for their more sensitive institutional data, but professors and instructors use the cloud for their instructional documents and to interact with students through a learning management system called MOODLE. With the cloud, their educators are able to interact with students outside the classroom.
For some businesses, such as those with sensitive documents such as governmental or national security institutions, use of cloud services may not be the most appropriate. For a price, secured cloud productivity solutions are available. Coleman advises businesses to obtain statements that show the cloud service is in compliance with the regulatory bodies that govern the organization.
Other situations, where control and responsibility shouldn’t be outsourced, may be more appropriate for a local IT staff, Coleman said.
“If you have some other application that is critical for the preservation of life such as air traffic control or medical systems, the cloud may not be best,” he said. “You may need something with little downtime. In these cases, having an IT professional or department locally run may be a more practical option.”
A business should also consider accessibility of the cloud. For instance, if the company has a remote location without a reliable and high-speed internet connection, this can hinder access and data transfer. In this situation, local solutions may be the best bet.
There could be an expectation that using a cloud service means you won’t have someone focused on your support needs, but that doesn’t need to be the case. “In every single market that we go, we have a localized support model, both in field engineering and remote,” says Hwang.
Whether the organization chooses a cloud service, a local IT department or a combination of these ultimately depends on the type of business, the sensitivity of the data being accessed and the budget available.