Moving to the cloud for the right reasons

Many failed forays into the cloud begin with a poorly conceived notion of what the cloud is actually good for

About two years ago, I suggested the cloud had jumped the shark -- not in the sense it had ceased to become an important part of the future of IT, but that the hype surrounding it had reached such a fever pitch that what it means to be "in the cloud" had almost become meaningless. I've been surprised to find that the hype has not died down.

If anything, the fact that cloudy infrastructures haven't experienced the worst of the gloom and doom that initial cloud detractors spread has piqued interest in cloud-based technologies. However, as in the past, nailing down exactly what the cloud is and, more important, how best to leverage its benefits is still challenging for many people.

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In discussing the cloud with clients and colleagues alike, I've found it's helpful to look at the full range of cloud-based services available in the marketplace today as a collection of tools that add to -- not replace -- the on-premise IT toolbox you may already have. I put a great deal of emphasis on selecting the right tools for the job, and looking at the cloud is no exception. Of course, selecting the right tool requires that you have a specific job in mind. Otherwise, you risk putting the cart before the horse in an attempt to bend a problem to fit the solution -- a situation that rarely ends well.

Although I believe the cloud is overhyped, there's no denying the range of cloud offerings available in the marketplace today have amazing capabilities. Tremendous scalability, elasticity, and always-on connectivity coupled with pay-as-you-go pricing are only a few of the benefits you can reap. However, not every IT challenge can effectively take advantage of those benefits. But some can.

A good reason for using the cloud: Dealing with poor WAN connectivity

Despite what the ads tell you, many of us still do not have access to reliable, high-bandwidth WAN connectivity. I spend most of my time in northern New England, and although things are improving slowly, many areas still can't get much beyond bonded T1 circuits. For multisite businesses or those with many external or traveling employees, this limited connectivity can be a difficult to address. Although deploying on-premise equipment may be easy, providing high-quality access to that gear may not be.

In many cases, you can handle this situation by using cloud services to host parts of the infrastructure that remote sites or traveling workers rely on heavily. That may be as simple as migrating to a SaaS CRM application such as, or it could mean extending your on-premise infrastructure into the cloud and hosting some of your servers and software there. Of course, the cloud isn't the only solution to that connectivity problem: Renting space in a colocation facility and installing your own hardware can provide many of the same benefits, although without the scalability advantages.

A good reason for using the cloud: Dealing with poor facilities

As business continues to rely more and more on IT to get work done, the breadth and depth of the applications IT must provide to users has grown substantially. That strains many IT organizations.

The closet that six or seven years ago might have had two servers, a switch, and a firewall sitting on a shelf might now be jam-packed with servers, have inadequate cooling, and put up with limited options for delivering clean power. The thought of investing the kind of capital necessary to build a real server room where one might not have previously existed (or, for larger organizations, expanding an existing one) is often an excellent motivator for finding other options.

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