Moving to Hybrid IT: Integrating Cloud Technologies
Software as a Service (SaaS). Hosted services. "The Cloud." These are terms that have been flying around the IT industry more and more frequently of late, and if you haven't been paying attention, it's time to start. The days when every one of your IT services lived entirely inside your datacenter are drawing to a close -- no matter what kind of organization you are.
Outsourcing specific IT services offers the ability to lessen your own workload, particularly for "non-core-competency" services that might only be used by a particular department within your company. Another advantage can come from outsourcing mission-critical commodity services that simply require too much expensive infrastructure to properly maintain -- such as messaging, departmental collaboration or Web hosting.
Hosted services typically consist of the same software or platforms that you might run in your own datacenter, only they're run from someone else's. You're no longer responsible for backups, power, cooling or other support needs; you simply consume the service provided. Hosted Microsoft Exchange Server and SharePoint are common examples, especially for small to midsize businesses that don't want to invest in the infrastructure and skilled personnel necessary to maintain these solutions. Hosted services can typically provide better uptime for much less investment: A clustered Exchange configuration for 1,000 users, for example, can set you back up to $42,000 in software licenses, and more than $30,000 in hardware. Hosted messaging services can cost considerably less, while still offering features like BlackBerry support, compliance options and granular server configuration control.
SaaS solutions typically consist of Web-based software applications hosted entirely in someone else's datacenter. One of the most successful SaaS stories is Salesforce.com, which offers Web-based CRM solutions for SMBs at a cost much lower than traditional, locally installed software packages. You'll never have to patch a SaaS solution, and you'll never have to worry about backups. You won't have to worry about remote access, either, because the solution is globally available to anyone with an Internet connection -- and that often includes special interfaces for users of mobile devices such as smartphones. The line between SaaS and hosted services is often blurry; my distinction is that SaaS usually consists of a custom application that isn't available for installation inside your own datacenter. SaaS providers can offer solutions that are competitive with hosted ones, such as the Google Docs Premier product, which competes lightly with Microsoft Exchange Server and the Microsoft Office suite.
These days, everyone likes to tell you about a "cloud solution." A more traditional definition of cloud computing, however, positions it not as a direct service, but rather as a software platform. In other words, rather than hosting your line-of-business (LOB) application within your own datacenter, you outsource it -- database and all -- to "the cloud," paying for actual usage of storage and bandwidth. The cloud is a superior way to host applications that must be accessible to a highly distributed audience: Cloud costs are typically much less than the combination of costs for datacenters, server hardware and private WAN bandwidth.
Of course, no outsourcing comes without concerns, and security is one of the most common, but don't think that just because you're subject to HIPAA or SOX or PCI DSS that you still have to keep everything in your own datacenter.
A bigger concern is how you'll manage these offloaded services. A provider's Service Level Agreement (SLA) may be great, but it's not a guarantee, and your business can still suffer if service isn't up to par. You'll need to take advantage of a new breed of monitoring and management tools that are capable of monitoring cloud-based services, helping you manage SLAs both from your vendor and to your internal customers.
With the right tools and the right know-how, you can start making your own hybrid datacenter -- saving money and saving effort.
Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.