For enterprises, cloud services are a gift from the technology gods in a galaxy far, far away.
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The idea of kicking servers and wires to the curb in favor of cloud services is something that's being embraced more and more by enterprise IT departments. Cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services and Rackspace Inc., allow enterprises to share data and communicate easier -- and often cheaper.
If you can have someone else do the heavy lifting, it'll save time.
analyst, 451 Research
However, cloud security and overall costs remain a concern for many enterprises. Costs vary from each enterprise, based on factors ranging from hourly rates to the amount of employees in an enterprise. But nevertheless, moving applications to the cloud is the future.
Here are five workloads and applications that enterprises can easily move to the cloud:
Communication is one of the most important components of any enterprise, and it requires a lot of IT time and money to maintain. With cloud-based email systems, such as Gmail, businesses can eliminate maintenance tasks.
"When you manage email, you have to buy servers and processors and hire staffers," said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "Companies don't want to manage their own email, so they outsource to Google and Microsoft. Having someone else do the work makes it easier for them."
Accessing company email remotely is also convenient and can increase worker productivity. Users can access corporate email in the Bahamas or New York City the same way they can at their home office. Keeping in contact has never been easier, and cloud makes it possible.
However, there are some concerns, because email is located off-premises and someone else is managing it, said Carl Brooks, analyst for infrastructure services at 451 Research in Boston.
"If your communications are privileged, you put emails at risk," Brooks said. "Someone could possibly read your emails."
Data backup and disaster recovery
Before cloud, if servers went down or if the power went out, there was a good chance of data loss. But moving data off-premises to a cloud provider is probably the best way to preserve company data. Having data stored in a remote location is particularly smart in cases of a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Sandy.
"With backup, it positions you for disaster recovery," said Mark Szynaka, cloud architect at CloudeBroker based in New York. "Companies that back up data to an IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service] are considering using those [providers] for disaster recovery. If there's a disaster, they have a service to run its applications."
Backing up data to the cloud has other advantages over traditional, on-premises methods, as well.
"The old-fashioned way was replicating servers," Brooks said. "Doing it in a cloud environment is much easier. The traditional method was just too expensive."
There aren't many drawbacks to backing up data to the cloud, but an enterprise must know whether information will switch over from physical to virtual with no issues, Brooks said.
Enterprise resource planning systems
Without enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, an enterprise wouldn't be able to manage its business.
Some ERP systems include inventory, product planning, tracking orders and providing customer service. Moving this to the cloud makes the life of an IT worker simpler, said Denis Pombriant, managing principal for Beagle Research Group in Stoughton, Mass.
The cloud service will upload data onto its database and charge the enterprise a monthly fee, Pombriant added.
ERPs in the cloud can also integrate different departments within the enterprise.
"For example, if you want to look up inventory, you can look it up anywhere on a tablet or remotely," said Ann Grackin, CEO of ChainLink Research Inc., a research and advisory firm based in Newton, Mass. "If you're a retailer and don't want to do paper orders anymore and just do [electronic] orders, having this all in the cloud and communicating with customers and trade partners is the way to go."
Sharing instances with other companies in the cloud can be difficult, too, she added. If there's demand for a product, than the cloud can get crowded.
"If you're at two different points around the globe, processing data can be difficult," Grackin said. "How can site performance be improved? Bandwidth, Wi-Fi and the speed of the Internet affects performance."
However, the potential security risks can't be excluded either, she said.
Customer relationship management
Making life easier for customers is a good way to forge strong, productive relationships, and customer relationship management (CRM) in the cloud does just that.
"It's a very complicated app and is expensive to run, so if you can have someone else do the heavy lifting, it'll save time," Brooks said.
It's beneficial to put this app in a cloud such as Salesforce.com, because sales people who work with customers across the country can access the service anytime they want, Grackin said. Communicating with customers to get feedback and sharing information is important, and the cloud makes that simpler to do.
One of the biggest drawbacks to CRM in the cloud is security.
"Security is an issue because a third party could be looking at everything," Grackin said.
Some companies store information both on the cloud as well as on-premises, so it can be a mess because information is everywhere, she added.
Team collaboration services
Team collaboration services in the cloud let employees access company information wherever they are.
"You have people coming from multiple locations, online and around the world," Grackin said. "Whether you come in through mobile or desktop, everyone can share documents and knowledge. All these things and anything [that a team is working on] come together."
Collaboration services on a cloud-based service such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Online also means company information resides in a modern environment.
"Lots of systems that are on-premises are old and out of date," Pombriant said. "They were built for a specific purpose and may have been built without modern controls and features that we're now used to."
Just like CRM, security can be an issue as the enterprise gives up control of information flow, so the chances of company data falling into the wrong hands is possible, Grackin added.
An enterprise should also understand its service-level agreements. By doing that, the enterprise knows its obligations, the level of service it'll receive from the cloud provider, and the costs. This is important because no one wants to get overcharged or deal with poor performance.
"You lose the ability to run a service by putting it into cloud," Bartoletti said. "So if something goes down, you have to wait for someone to fix it."
Michael Anderson is an editorial assistant with the Data Center & Virtualization Media Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.