Despite questions around legacy systems and security, the march towards the cloud continues. Iwan Pienaar looks at what is influencing local companies’ viewpoints.
Cloud computing has been one of those technologies that has elicited mixed responses from decision-makers the world over. The proponents cannot stop talking about things such as improved efficiencies and cost-savings. Those against however, drive the perceived lack of security, data sovereignty, and impact on legacy systems argument.
But despite this, adoption rates have climbed steadily over the past few years. And according to Gartner, cloud computing will become the bulk of new IT spend by 2016. Speaking at a symposium in India at the end of last year, Chris Howard, the research vice president at Gartner, said that there are very real trends toward cloud platforms, and also toward massively scalable processing. “Virtualisation, service orientation, and the internet have converged to sponsor a phenomenon that enables individuals and businesses to choose how they will acquire or deliver IT services, with reduced emphasis on the constraints of traditional software and hardware licensing models,” he said.
But what about SA?
So what does this mean for South African business? Are we leading the charge for the cloud in Africa or is it a case of wait and see what others are doing? According to Dinakar Vasanthahuma, chief technology officer of IT consultancy Logikal Consulting, the adoption of cloud computing is relatively slow in the country when compared to the United States and Europe.
“People are warming up to it but there are still concerns around some of the legacy questions. This is specific to security, where company data will be stored, and what is meant by ‘on the cloud’. So a lot of basics that have been addressed in developed markets.”
He believes that this shows that the IT industry has not done its due diligence locally, noting that these should be easy questions to answer with the key on educating people on what they understand around the cloud. Richard Vester, director of cloud services at EOH, agrees. “The principal obstacles to moving to the cloud remain the same: availability, security,and data loss.
However, the move to the cloud is happening as much because of the BYOD (bring your own device) trend as it is despite it. Employees are already comfortable with cloud applications thanks to those that they use in their personal lives, such as Gmail. Where there are differences is in the boundaries and permissions that IT places on the cloud applications, and change management becomes essential,” he says.
And for Megan Pydigadu, group financial director at Mix Telematics, software as a service (one of the many alternate descriptions used for cloud computing) is moving to an inflexion point. “The cost of data has become more affordable so cloud service providers are more accessible for South African companies. It is an easier and cleaner environment to work in and lets companies deploy solutions according to the needs of their users,” she says.
A smooth migration?
As with any technology, the cloud has had its share of iterations. Vasanthahuma says that it had its start in websites with more information becoming web-enabled. This evolved into software as a service that offered applications online, and today hosted solutions have become part of what we do without people even noticing it.
“But when discussions turn towards hosting, people get uncomfortable. Awareness campaigns need to be an initial part of any cloud implementation as much for the decision-makers as for the employees. With the sheer amount of hybrid solutions offering companies the best of both externally and internally hosted worlds, getting the educational building blocks in place is critical.”
The benefits of the cloud are such that delaying the inevitable might seem like a foolish decision. “There are plenty of good reasons to move to the cloud, but mainly it makes good business sense. You can call it efficiency, or call it doing more with less. Companies are increasingly looking at cloud computing in various forms, and it is the corporate side – and the business users – that are pushing companies in that direction,” says Vester.
He says that the financial constraints of the past five years have deeply affected how companies deploy their solutions. They are pressed to seek optimised business models while measuring their performance and service deliveries more closely, hence their inclination towards shared services. “The resistance to change lies in pockets of applications that some companies prefer to manage themselves, which is where hybrid cloud solutions are filling the gaps.”
Vasanthahuma echoes the sentiment. “Some companies still insist on everything being on-site despite the benefits of the cloud. They must realise that by moving things to the cloud they are not losing any power. The consumer services are helping build momentum especially when it comes to sharing information and making people comfortable in using the cloud for a variety of things.”
Despite this, Vester says that organisations need to consider whether they are really ready for the cloud. “Cost, while important, is not the only issue and organisations need to assess whether the benefits of moving to the cloud are worth the disruption. It is just as important to have a plan for effectively managing the cloud environment as it is to have a plan for the migration itself.” He believes that the success of a cloud implementation rests on business leaders understanding how cloud availability impacts them, and IT listening carefully to what their needs are as they relate to flexibility and availability. “By improving communication between line of business and IT, by carefully evaluating real-world availability requirements, and by deploying the most flexible and open technologies, IT managers may just find a way to keep everyone happy,” Vester concludes.
It is when the balance between business growth, employee satisfaction, and technology implementation is maintained, that local organisations start to gain the most benefit. With employees already pushing hard on having access to certain consumer-level applications inside an organisation, would it not be better in working closely with them and develop an IT strategy that reflects shifting technology boundaries coupled with solid business principles?