The allure of the cloud is lower costs, greater agility, and the opportunity to focus more on your core business. Not surprisingly, the cloud is transformational for many businesses.
The cloud, and Software as a Service (SaaS) in particular offer obvious benefits to small businesses and startups. You no longer have to spend time and capital upfront building out infrastructure before you can spin up a new product or service. Enterprises are now on board, as well. SaaS is on the way to becoming the preferred means of deploying new software and the dominant model for software licensing.
Embracing the cloud means outsourcing responsibilities that were previously handled by IT using company-owned servers and software. How is the cloud, and SaaS, in particular, shaping IT?
1. The mix of daily IT tasks has changed
The cloud has fundamentally altered the mix of daily tasks that IT handles. Much less effort is dedicated to procuring, installing, maintaining, and managing on-premises servers, storage, and applications.
The out-of-date software is far less often a major headache. Planning and rolling out complex upgrades to hardware and applications are far less frequently a concern. Who doesn’t like saving time? Because, well, time is money.
2. IT has lost some control
Using the cloud is outsourcing; when you hand off responsibilities you lose fine-grained control of those aspects that are delegated that now live “under the hood.” You are relying on the service agreement with your cloud provider to get the level of availability, performance, and security your business depends on.
The cloud provider will roll out innovations not under your control, rapidly. The IT department must adapt to frequent updates that are not on their schedule or terms. So the team must learn as rapidly as the technology evolves.
The new world of the cloud means that you also must be wary of losing control of the organization’s IT infrastructure. Departments can bypass IT, going directly to a cloud provider and rapidly setting up desired services. Users can bring their own devices, accompanied by their own applications and cloud services.
3. IT can become more flexible and agile
The cloud enables fast ramp-up and low-entry costs for spinning up new services and products. The computing infrastructure can scale up and down based on business conditions and the project mix. Innovation becomes easier and the pace of change speeds up.
In a fast-changing world and a global marketplace, businesses must be more and more agile, and that requires flexible DevOps-oriented IT.
4. The nature of the job of IT has changed
The cloud is attractive for organizations that want to cut IT costs and responsibilities. But the actual benefit comes from transformed IT. The cloud frees up IT resources.
Rather than being consumed by maintaining and supporting on-premises hardware and software infrastructure, IT teams can tackle projects and provide advanced services that are critical to the organization’s future and growth.
5. IT must focus on innovation
Once upon a time, much of IT was the never-ending fight between maintenance and entropy – keeping (often old) infrastructure up and running. Now more and more infrastructure is handled by the cloud provider. In this new environment, IT’s job becomes innovating, championing, and supporting the new services the cloud makes possible. Innovative IT is essential for an organization to remain competitive and thrive.
New options have emerged. Smaller businesses that couldn’t afford to host enterprise-class applications for ERP and CRM now can benefit from SaaS versions. The absence of big-budget, on-premises compute servers and storage farms does not prevent you from leveraging big data, now that there are cloud warehousing and pay-as-you-go data crunching. Cloud providers now offer machine learning services; if your organization doesn’t figure out how to benefit from them, your competitors will.
IT must also support the synergy of SaaS and Platform as a Service (PaaS). SaaS business applications generate business data that can be leveraged via apps developed with PaaS. A wide range of business users now wants to develop customizations and apps for analytics and automation.
6. IT needs new expertise
All of this means that IT needs a different mix of expertise, and must learn continuously.
Just gaining the touted benefits of the cloud means you need to understand the ins and outs of contracts with cloud providers and the complexities of assessing the true cost of the cloud.
Your cloud service agreement must guarantee the cloud services are scalable, extensible, and integrable to meet your needs. You have to know the availability guarantees, maintenance and support agreements, and insurance against data loss or security breaches.
Understanding the true costs of the cloud is crucial. When picking a service, you must evaluate the total cost of the cloud-based solution, to ensure the expected cost savings aren’t getting eaten up down in the noise. Ensure the scale-up/scale-down cost provides the cost benefits you are seeking. You must also have reliable (thus redundant) Internet connectivity which doesn’t eat up the cost benefits of the cloud.
Finally, you need the knowledge and tools to manage a hybrid network. When a performance issue occurs, is it in your own app or infrastructure, in the cloud, or in the cloud services your app relies on? Tools and skills for bandwidth monitoring, traffic analysis, and application monitoring that were developed for inside-the-firewall, in-house applications become blind when multiple parts of the infrastructure are in the cloud.
Securing your infrastructure, and detecting and responding to security incidents, also change when the perimeter is no longer within your on-premises data centers and the VPN. New tools and methods are required.
IT is changed and still necessary
The cloud and SaaS significantly change the job of IT. Gaining the hoped-for cost benefits and business agility only happens with the right expertise. An IT team that is agile, DevOps-focused, and continuously learning is essential if an organization will fully reap the benefits of the cloud.