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What makes the transition to cloud computing so challenging is the necessity to satisfy a mix of business requirements and technical considerations.
As with many IT initiatives, the driving force is a desire to reduce costs. This move toward frugality often includes the need to spend less on hardware, software, networking, storage, power, cooling and staff. Even if it is only ancillary to a company's core business, the on-premises IT infrastructure forms the foundation for most organizations. As a result, properly managing these data center assets becomes an important -- and costly -- duty. While hardware costs have fallen, personnel-related expenses are increasingly making staff one of the largest costs in IT.
Although cloud computing services appear to be an attractive response to the financial burden, making the decision to outsource an IT function can be complicated. Organizations operating in highly regulated industries have the additional burden of compliance.
So how does a business move from a reliance on established, monolithic applications to the promise of an agile cloud architecture? The most practical approach may be to adopt a hybrid on-premises/off-premises computing environment.
Choosing a cloud computing service
Businesses of all sizes are questioning whether cloud computing is a good fit or if instead it might be just another marketing catch phrase. It's important to understand that cloud computing is the outgrowth of decades of trends in information technology. In the past, similar approaches were sometimes described as service bureaus, application service providers, hosting or managed services.
In the cloud computing architecture, workloads can be executed on-premises or off-premises, but they are implemented using a self-service, pay-as-you-go model. This often means that the workload has been designed to work with a stack of cloud-oriented management, provisioning and virtualization software.
A hybrid approach is when some workloads are hosted locally in a company's own data center and others are located remotely in the data center of a service provider.
The hybrid cloud approach, however, often requires a reconsideration of both IT and data center strategies. A cloud service provider may be adept at creating and supporting certain applications or offering computing and storage at a lower cost. Other functions, though, might be better addressed with in-house IT tools.
Cloud computing is a form of outsourcing combined with a new purchasing and consumption model. A business purchases access to a service provider's data center on a self-service, pay-as-you-go basis. The service provider designs the data center, and it acquires the systems and software licenses. The provider is also responsible for operations, facilities and security. The three basic types of cloud computing services are: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS.)
SaaS offerings provide access to a complete application, such as customer relationship management, collaborative services such as messaging, calendar management, task management and document sharing, or enterprise resource planning. Storage, backup and disaster recovery are also available in the SaaS category.
PaaS provides a complete set of development tools and a runtime environment for custom applications. This type of offering is of most interest to businesses focused on providing IT products and services. Service offerings are available to support the development of applications executing under Linux or Windows as well as Web-based applications.
IaaS, meanwhile, gives users access to a shared or dedicated system allowing a complete application to be hosted in the service provider's data center.
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