The innovations and advances in today’s technology are happening so quickly and so consistently, it is almost like being on an airplane. During the flight, it feels like you are sitting still, even though you are moving more than 600 miles per hour.
Only a few years ago, the cloud was most closely associated with “storage.” Organizations that were suddenly able to gather, retain and generate massive amounts of data, with and on more devices and platforms than ever before, began to wrestle with the basic challenge of where to put it all. For many, the answer was a new and almost mythical place with a fairy tale name: “The Cloud.”
At least in the public consciousness, the concept of the cloud appeared so quickly within the dizzying explosion of data usage that many people’s perception of what it is and what it does remains, no pun intended, quite cloudy. Shaped by personal computing associations and terminology (“backup to iCloud”), the general comprehension of it can be paradoxically simplistic and vague.
It is easy to see why the complexities of cloud deployment can get overlooked. But ignoring these complexities can lead to significant risks. Many organizations that charge into cloud deployment haphazardly quickly find themselves mired in costly innovation-stiflers like vendor lock-in and disparate cloud architectures. Worse yet, they place their mission-critical data at risk or out of reach. Some lose it entirely.
With a basic understanding and some thoughtful planning, though, all this can be completely avoided. Because what the cloud is, is quite simple. But what it does, when used correctly and strategically, is actually quite profound. And it is fundamentally reshaping business intelligence, removing blocks to innovation, and transforming data’s role in success.
First, the simple.
When people discuss putting something in “the cloud,” all it means is that the information will reside outside an organization’s firewall, often in space rented on-demand from large scale utilities like Google, Amazon or Azure. That’s it.
Having data in the cloud means it is globally accessible and flexible, with extreme ease of access and scalability. In the past, organizations would have to buy, build, house and maintain a data center. It was a labor-intensive, painstaking and costly endeavor. Today, a rental contract with a cloud service provider can be signed quickly, offering instant global reach and accessibility.
For smaller organizations and startups, it is often an easy decision that has leveled the playing field and offered unprecedented access to hungry, young innovators with software solutions. Many larger enterprise organizations are realizing the same advantages by migrating their data into the cloud – often, into a hybrid cloud architecture that combines on- and off-premises deployment.
This small but critical distinction – the ability to seamlessly house and access data between multiple cloud resources in a hybrid configuration – has had enormous consequences. It has transformed data into a new kind of global currency and immeasurably increased the importance of IT to business success today.
The ability to instantly access mission-critical data creates both opportunity and risk in a cloud deployment. How efficiently and effectively an organization is able to tap, parse and derive intelligence from data is now more critical than ever before. By logical extension, an organization’s ability to restrict access and protect that data is equally important.
Because data, now a fundamental driver of business success and competitive advantage, has become extremely valuable. It has moved far beyond “storage,” with all its associations of a dusty warehouse filled with old files. In the relative blink of an eye, technology innovation that allows for incredible insight to be derived from information has harnessed data into a valuable corporate asset that needs to be retrieved efficiently and guarded carefully.
But ironically, given the speed and dexterity of technology today, the money that data most closely resembles is not computerized banking or split-second financial industry trading. Data is more like cold hard cash. It is a physical thing – heavy, cumbersome and hard to move. Large data transfers can take days, even weeks. You don’t want to move it very often and you don’t want to move it very far.
Now more than ever, data needs to be carefully managed across different “boundaries,” without losing control. Data is extremely valuable and personal, but it is also extremely cumbersome.
In order to best manage data’s value, some organizations are moving away from being the builders and maintainers of data centers themselves, becoming brokers of services that enhance business performance. As a result, there are now many new service providers and vendors competing to meet these needs.
For successful strategic cloud deployments, organizations must be able to quickly assess and assign value to the different types of data they generate and collect – and draw from that analysis to designate a location for that data.
They then must assess vendors to determine which should be approved, and for what kind of information. Vendors are evaluated across a variety of criteria, including the country they operate in, their corporate history, their security protocols and even their proximity. If they meet all requirements, they are approved for use by the company’s employees.
This is the essence of what is now called “data stewardship.” You can offload the infrastructure, the applications, the services, but you can never offload or outsource “control” and responsibilities of important data.
It is ironic that all this important and game-changing management of information is all unfolding under the warm and fuzzy term “the cloud.” It’s true that what is essentially a simple concept – let’s take the data we have behind our firewall and move it to a place where it is more accessible, flexible and scalable – can get complicated quickly. Within these many levels of complexity, though, are incredible new strategic advantages waiting to be unleashed. Smart, conscientious cloud deployment can drive greater value to and from a company’s information, while tapping the incredible power of innovation to drive real impact.
The sooner organizations realize what the cloud is – and what it is not – the more effectively they will be able to use the power of information to their advantage. As the fog of the cloud continues to clear, its complications are simplified and its incredible benefits are revealed.