Information is the lifeblood of any retail organization and keeping the flow of mission-critical information fast and healthy is essential. When the cloud phenomenon first took off, the big question among retailers was whether to jump to the cloud or stay on premise, to maintain their existing solutions or invest in new technology. They were faced with a big decision about what could and what couldn’t be moved into the cloud.
On one side of the argument you have a contingent of information technology professionals already reaping the benefits of cloud computing. They assert that the future of information technology is in the cloud – that companies need to get on board by moving their applications to the cloud now. On the other side you have old-school information technology professionals with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. They rightly point out that these traditional applications are often the backbone of a company’s business and argue that running them on dedicated infrastructure seems to be working just fine. So why tinker with a good thing?
A cloud platform deployment has a lot of advantages:
- Convenience and Availability. Customers and employees have anywhere-access to the managed infrastructure, including licensed operating systems and applications. Need to pull a report while on a business trip? No problem – the access to a vast amount of information from multiple sources is at your fingertips.
- Lower Operating Costs. The total cost of ownership gives cloud deployment a distinct advantage over the traditional software model. Information technology costs are dramatically reduced as the cloud provider is responsible for the cost of software licenses, technical support and training fees.
- High Scalability. With the cloud infrastructure, a process to scale up or down to support seasonal peaks, organizational growth, downsizing, usage patterns and other factors is just a few clicks away. There is always more power and space available without having to own it.
- Fast Deployment and Instant Upgradeability. Provisioning new servers is quick and uncomplicated, facilitating faster deployment. With a cloud-based management system, a service provider can automatically push application updates and perform remote management.
- Guaranteed Uptime and Disaster Recovery. Most cloud providers are technology behemoths like Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Oracle. They can provide unparalleled uptime (99.95 percent and above) uptime for mission critical applications. Most cloud providers have disaster recovery policies and procedures to enable the recovery or continuation of vital technology infrastructure and systems following a natural or human-induced disaster.
- Highly Trained Support. Major cloud and service providers have very experienced staff managing the organization’s servers, typically 24x7x365. They can provide managed cloud support like automation of backups and monitoring, standardization of recovery procedures.
- As retailers move to provide access to their customers and employees on mobile platforms, the simplicity of cloud deployment simply trounces the complex on-premise environment with multiple levels of firewalls and passwords to gain access.
- Security. This is where technologists simply disagree the most. One side touts on-premise as the bullet-proof method of choice. Others believe cloud is the way to go. Data breaches and system compromises have happened in both environments. Cloud providers have a vested interest in providing a high level of security for their customers. Their livelihood depends on it.
For all its convenience, flexibility and scalability, the cloud platform also comes with some pitfalls:
- Security Concerns. Although hosting providers are putting tougher security controls in place, traffic between an organization and the cloud is still across a public internet, and this leaves some organizations skeptical about data security. After all, you are trusting a third party to host your data. This fear is so widespread that many information technology leaders believe that these powerful internet services are a security nightmare.
- Cloud solutions require reliable internet access for you to remain productive.
- Outages. Hosting provider outages often have repercussions across all customers.
- Lack of Industry Standards. Cloud hosting providers do not operate under a uniform code of standards. Their features and service offerings often fluctuate.
Many agree that the benefits of cloud computing outweigh its risks. But should you simply jump into the pool with the others? A careful strategy to re-engineer your applications platform into the cloud could have significant cost savings and operational efficiencies. It may be beneficial to conduct a “Total Cost of Ownership” analysis before making such a strategic decision.
And maybe this kind of binary, all-or-nothing, lift and shift debate does not do justice to the complexity companies face when they weigh cloud adoption. Maybe a middle path that takes a smarter, longer-term view of enterprise cloud adoption and cloud competence is a better approach, and a good software and technology partner should be able to help your company understand and evaluate cloud computing so you can determine whether to incorporate it into your information technology strategy.