Mom, this is what the Cloud is

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6 Minutes Read

My Mom is 73. She has an iPad, an iPhone, and a few other gadgets and sees herself as 'with it'. She is 'with it', but the problem is, she says things like "the Google" and refers to stories and facts, with 'they say…'. And, they usually refer to something seen on Facebook. So, it was no surprise when, a while ago, she mentioned, very casually, that her photos were "in the Cloud". Hmmm. How did my 73-year-old Mother know about the Cloud or even how to get photos there? I challenged her and, unsurprisingly, I got a strange answer with lots of tech buzzwords but, in the end, she asked me to explain it to her. I failed. I couldn't even tell her if she should say, "on the Cloud" or "in the Cloud".

You see, I'm part of the leadership team of a business (spark-hq.com) that offers Cloud Deployment Strategies, and you wouldn't be wrong to assume I know this stuff inside out. I don't. Fortunately, I'm not the one that comes anywhere near these sorts of projects but, at the same time, I thought I should learn the basics. And, assuming there are others like me, having a 'with it' Mom or involved in conversations at work around Cloud-this and Cloud-that; for their benefit, I want to share what I've learned so far.

Here it goes, Mom. The idea of the Cloud is pretty simple. Instead of keeping your photos (or data and programs) on your computer or phone, they're kept somewhere else, and you can access them over the Internet. Somewhere else? Yes, like… Google's computers (servers). Why would I do that? Well, it saves space on your computer and phone and for you, it means you don't need to upgrade to a more expensive iPhone with more memory to save your photos. They're saved somewhere else – it doesn't matter to you where - and when you want to look at them, you can, very easily and quickly over the Internet. 

Perhaps to diehards, I've oversimplified it, but to those who aren't, that's essentially what the Cloud means/ is. And today, nearly anyone that works online uses the Cloud in one way or another. As an example, if you use Gmail, you log in, write your email, and send it. You can see your Inbox and Sent Items, Junk and Deleted ones. None of these are stored on your computer or phone; instead, they're stored remotely on Google's servers. Google is providing you with an on-demand service that they manage on your behalf. This is the Cloud, or specifically a Public Cloud. 

There are four Cloud Models, but only two of them will probably interest you, especially if you've read this far!

  1. The Public Cloud is the one you're probably most familiar with. Instead of using Outlook on your laptop or desktop computer, you might now use Outlook.com. This Cloud environment is available to everyone, and the application you are using (i.e. Gmail), the 3rd party (Gmail/Google) save your data on their servers.
  2. The Private Cloud: You're probably not as familiar with the Private Cloud, as it's not available to the general public, but you might very well use it at work. Have you heard of an Intranet or a work VPN? That's an example of a Private Cloud model. It's perfect for organisations that might have high-security requirements, demands, tools and resources, and availability needs that shouldn't be shared nor needed by anyone outside of the company.
  3. The Hybrid Cloud brings the best of both Private and Public into a single Cloud. It gives companies the ability to mix and match to best suit their requirements. For example, a company might use a Private Cloud to run its essential operations and a Public Cloud for less sensitive operations.
  4. The Community Cloud looks a lot like a Private Cloud, but the difference is, is its set of users. Best explained as an example, might be where banks or government agencies belong to the same 'community', where they share information between that community such as security and privacy details.

OK. So we know what the Cloud is. We understand there are four Cloud models, but for most of us, there's only one or two worth thinking about. Now, bear with me, within these models there are three different kinds of Cloud. In other words, there are three different ways services can be provided to us through the Cloud. One, you might already be familiar with, and that's SaaS or Software-as-a-Service. A SaaS would be the Gmail example. Hubspot and Salesforce are others. The other two are a little more aligned to business needs, and they are PaaS, or Platform-as-a-Service and IaaS, Infrastructure-as-a-Service. PaaS is an online computing platform that provides hardware and software tools for people looking to develop applications online. IaaS is a service for storage and networking from, as an example, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. Have I lost you? It could be easier to think of these as three layers. The first layer, the IaaS, is the computer. The second layer, the PaaS, are the databases. The third and final layer, the SaaS, is the application. 

Maybe it's already apparent, but why consider moving to the Cloud? Regardless of your business-specific needs, here are some general benefits:

  • Cost. It's a big motivator for any business. By moving to the Cloud, you can assign what was typically a capital expense, to now an operational one.
  • Investment. You no longer need to worry about investing in additional IT resources and the limitations of existing IT assets. 
  • Risk. There is a significantly lower upfront investment. You're not buying lots of computers. Instead, you're paying a service or subscription fee to access applications and store your data on the Cloud instead of something onsite/ on-premise.
  • Performance. Some areas are just fundamentally improved by moving to the Cloud.

Getting started on the Cloud is not something that's done with the flick of a switch, particularly when you're looking to transition your business processes. This is an evolution, and it requires careful planning. Hardly exhaustive, but here are five steps you might think about to help you get started.

The Beginning 

Analyse your business. Take a look at your processes and think about if they could be done better on the Cloud, considering things like productivity and cost - not everything needs to go to the Cloud. And, look to the future too, not just today: budget and scalability. If you're making changes, team buy-in is crucial to ensure the undertaking is a success. 

An Understanding

The word 'legal' exhausts me, but it's one of the most important steps, as things can turn messy. Consider where your data is kept and SLAs (Service Level Agreements). Where data is stored will impact privacy and security legal obligations, so where your business operates from and where your service is provided from and to who may dictate the choices you have.

Making a Move

Once you've analysed your business and are aware of any privacy and security constraints, it's time to think about a deployment strategy or plan. Get down to the nitty-gritty on things like how will you transfer, securely and seamlessly, your onsite data to the Cloud application. Can you manage both applications in parallel, before committing 100% to the change? Or, if it fails, how do you roll things back to the way they were?

In Action

A relatively straightforward step, you'll want to look at the practicalities. Things to think about and plan for: how will your business and team engage and operate with the Cloud application and new process; what challenges might you anticipate and how do you plan to address them; who will own and lead this new way of work; what do you do if there's an outage and you're not able to access the Internet.

It's Not Working Out

It hasn't worked out, or it's time for a change. Either way, you want to have some contingency plans in place, recognising that not everything always goes the way you hope. Sometimes it makes sense to bring things back onsite and off the Cloud. Other times, the Cloud application isn't right or no longer meets your needs. Figure out how you can make these rollback or scale-up changes seamlessly. We can pitch up a lot of the same questions as before: how will you move your data, securely; who will manage the process; what if the migration doesn't work; can you manage operations in parallel to one another - is it possible between your current Cloud vendor and a new vendor; can you legally make the change?

At the end of the day, like most things in business, you need a strategy. Strategies can fail, and that's OK, but having a blueprint to work from will help ensure success or management of failure. While I've tried to highlight a few different aspects of Cloud Deployment, the basics remain. Here are some of those basics to help you along with your Cloud journey:

  1. Is now the right time to move? Does a move align with my business goals, strategies, and budgets?
  2. What does my company risk appetite look like? Have I prepared for fundamentally changing several operational processes and how things might be done versus how they were or are currently done? Take a look at what you have right now - what's not on the Cloud, but that you think could be. Remember, this isn't always an apples to apples comparison. How you use an application that's available onsite/ on-premise and how you use that same application on the Cloud can be quite different.
  3. Do I have the buy-in from my team? Like any strategy, you need to communicate with your team and ensure that everyone understands and supports these strategies and changes.

Well, there it is. That's what I know so far. Hopefully, some of this has helped give you a better understanding of the Cloud. There are many reasons to make a move, and there are still many reasons, for some, not to. Just plan it out carefully, and I'm sure you'll be able to figure out what works best for you. And remember, if Cloud is part of your business strategy, why not get in touch with someone that knows a lot more about this than me - the experts at start@spark-hq.com - for a Discovery Workshop.

Oh, and my Mom's photos? They're In the Cloud.