Why Cloud Computing Matters to Midsized Business
These days, there are clouds on the horizon for many businesses--and that's a good thing, if the clouds are of the computing sort. It seems that everyone is talking about the pros and cons of moving to the cloud. But what exactly is the cloud, and when and why does it make sense to move there?
Cloud computing is actually an array of computing services that are hosted by a third party on a subscription basis. These services can range from IT infrastructure (you rent the servers), to platform (you rent the operating system), to applications (you rent the software). When properly managed, these services function together seamlessly, operating as a single system.
Ideally, the cloud provides a reliable, scalable, low-cost alternative to building and maintaining a full-fledged IT operation inside your company. Your subscription rents you the hardware and software you need—servers, email, conferencing, customer relations management and more, all coming from the cloud. End of story—well, not really.
In reality, most businesses will find they need to keep some computing on-premise. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and line-of-business (LOB) applications, for instance, are so tightly attuned to company needs that many businesses opt to keep these in-house.
With this in mind, you can see that cloud computing versus on-premise IT is not an either/or proposition. There're more like the columns of choices on a Chinese restaurant menu. You can pick some from column A (the cloud) and some from column B (on-premise), integrating them to best meet the needs and resources of your business.
Did you catch the word "integrating" in the previous sentence? It's key—you need to pick cloud services that will mesh with your line-of-business applications and other on-premise technology. This is an area where Microsoft cloud services really excel. As one of the world's largest software companies, Microsoft has the products and commitment to support hybrid architectures, allowing you to use as much or as little of the cloud as you need.
What's more, Microsoft cloud services offer enterprise-class reliability and security. Microsoft has been providing cloud computing for well over a decade, going back to Hotmail. Of course, no one called Hotmail "cloud computing" back then, but that's exactly what is was--and is. With all this experience, Microsoft provides scale that other providers find hard to match. Microsoft processes 3 to 4 billion emails a day through its cloud services, and the company uses cloud computing to deliver software updates, servicing up to 650 million PCs at once.
In fact, Microsoft's cloud services are so reliable that the company provides a reimbursement for anything short of 99.9% uptime as part of its Service Level Agreement. Plus, you'll never have to worry about replacing old software or applying upgrades and patches. Everything is taken care of in the cloud, at the Microsoft data center.
Microsoft's cloud services also deliver a consistent experience across an array of devices, from desktops to laptops to mobile phones. The Microsoft cloud services make up a single, integrated stack: from the Windows Azure operating system and the SQL Azure relational database, to Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, to the Microsoft Business Productivity Suite (BPOS) of communications and collaboration services. What other provider offers such a comprehensive, coordinated system of cloud services?
And what other provider can match Microsoft's partner ecosystem? Microsoft's independent software vendor (ISV) partners are porting their applications through Windows Azure, while its system integrator (SI) partners (including Accenture and Infosys) are establishing practices for cloud computing and preparing customers to move to the cloud.
The fastest growing area of cloud services are commodity workloads, such as communications and collaboration. Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) is a great example. BPOS includes Microsoft Exchange Online, Office Live Meeting, Microsoft Communications Online, and Microsoft SharePoint Online. By moving messaging and collaboration services online, the in-house IT team is freed up to focus on LOB applications and other strategic uses of technology.
What's more, the subscriptions are highly affordable, costing as little as $10 per user per month for the full BPOS suite, making it an attractive option for CIOs who are constrained by budget and headcount. The costs of the servers—including the expenses of housing, powering, and cooling them—are all borne by the Microsoft data centers. So, too, is the cost of maintaining the hardware and upgrading the software. And by avoiding a big outlay for new hardware, the subscription model helps companies preserve their precious lines of credit, something your CFO will surely appreciate in these tight-credit times.
Over and above the cost savings, commodity cloud services also provide flexibility, allowing companies to ramp their computing needs up and down as required. For example, Kelley Blue Book, the well-known provider of automobile pricing information, faces daily, weekly, and seasonal fluctuations in traffic to its popular website. As a result, though its infrastructure had the capacity to support traffic during high-volume periods, the company was also paying for under-utilized servers during nonpeak times—buying hardware to ensure they could handle peak loads.
Managing the servers also was time-consuming. For instance, to add servers to its failover data center location, the company had to order the servers from a vendor, fly personnel to the data center, and build and rack the servers—a process that took up to six weeks. When Kelley Blue Book needed to scale up quickly, such as when the "Cash for Clunkers" initiative launched in 2009, a six-week lead time to deploy new servers was unacceptable.
That's why Kelley Blue Book turned to Microsoft's Windows Azure platform, which provides a cloud-services operating system (Windows Azure) and extended cloud storage (Microsoft SQL Azure). The Azure solution provides the company with the quick scalability it needs to match usage demands. Moreover, with Windows Azure's pay-per-use cost model, Kelley Blue Book pays only for the processing and storage that it uses.
Medway Plastics, a midsize California-based company that designs processes and tools for custom injection molding, faced a different dilemma. With clients, partners, and suppliers around the world, Medway needed a better way to share technical drawings with coworkers and customers. Jay Magness, Medway's IT Manager, knew there were applications that could remedy these problems. But he also knew, all too well, of the company's resource constraints.
That's when Microsoft cloud-computing—Microsoft Exchange Online, Office Live Meeting, and Microsoft SharePoint Online—came to the rescue. With the servers and software running at Microsoft datacenters, the new applications imposed no additional burden on Medway's IT staff. By shifting to cloud services, Medway obtained e-mail, contacts and calendar information, shared workspaces, and Web and video conferencing services--all managed through a single, security-enhanced, Web-based interface, through which Magness can monitor the performance of the services, add and configure users, submit and track support requests, and manage users and licenses.
"The deployment itself is very easy and fast, and I can rely on Microsoft to manage everything," observes Magness. Thanks to Microsoft cloud services, Magness no longer spends time setting up and configuring new systems. The upshot: More time to focus on strategic IT initiatives.
Perhaps, like Medway, your business requires you to work with far-flung customers and vendors. Or maybe you face Kelley Blue Book's need to rapidly scale your capacity to align with usage demands. Whatever your cloud computing needs, Microsoft has a full stack of services that will work together seamlessly with one another and with your on-premise technology. Cloud services from Microsoft—that's one cloudy forecast that you'll welcome.
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