Cloud is nothing new, and there is a raft of terms and acronyms that we've seen appear over the last few years to describe certain elements of the concept. Going back to 'on demand', we've seen things like IaaS, PaaS and SaaS come into common use, but they're not helping to create clarity as to what we mean by cloud.
Cloud is term used to describe applications and services that are hosted remotely and made available via an internet connection; however, the term is often mis- and overused, which is where the confusion arises. To understand what it is, and what it is doing for business, we have to look at examples of how cloud is actually helping solve business challenges, which can be broken down into three areas: agility, cost savings and flexibility.
Increasing the speed at which a company can change its IT estate – e.g. turning on server capacity or services as and when required – to meet the business' need is critical in many sectors, but particularly in fast-paced industries like financial services.
We have one client that has a strategy to rapidly grow market share and has identified a need to grow their infrastructure at speed. That's all well and good, but, in addition to growing its infrastructure to meet its needs, it also needs to ensure the quality and resilience of any new kit or services it installs.
In the traditional IT environment, extending IT provision requires additional equipment. This has to purchased, installed and configured, then applications loaded before it can be made available – this generally takes between four and eight weeks. Delivering the same extra capacity using cloud services brings that time frame down to under a week.
In addition, it has saved our customer the capital costs associated with IT projects (Capex) and moved it to an operational expenditure (Opex), although it would be wrong to assume this benefit is unique to cloud, as financing and leasing models have been available for many years.
Where it is unique is in the flexibility and scalability it offers, moving Opex payment up and down in line with the level of consumption rather than a fixed term. In addition, it removes the challenges around around IT estate refresh and end-of-life equipment disposal. We have found that this is particularly true for our mid-size customers as it gives them peace of mind around budgetary control and planning.
By selecting the correct cloud services, the complexity of an IT estate can also be reduced to a cost and service level agreement that are matched to the business need, with the flexibility to change in line with both tactical and strategic business goals. We have a number of clients that provision their entire IT estate via the cloud embracing the theory of IT-as-a-Service. This has enabled their IT teams to shift their focus from running the IT to supporting the core business and acting as an enabler for the business, rather than purely a cost.
Cloud is a simple term, and the concept is very simple, but its been confused by different parties using it in different contexts. In a way, the term is less important now, as businesses of all sizes are moving to the cloud and cloud-based services. Those that have are seeing the agility, flexibility and financial benefits we've talked about – whether they've gone for full or partial cloud adoption or a blended ('hybrid') model.
Tony Limby is director, Cloud & Datacentre, IT Services at BT Business