As technology continues to evolve to provide more always-on digital experiences, both customers and employees have come to expect persistent, flexible, consumption-based approaches to the services they need. As a result, business operations are shifting to cloud services at an ever-increasing rate in hopes of capitalizing on increased data speeds, storage capacity, and operational flexibility.
From the cloud to infrastructure, businesses are increasingly interested in purchasing only what they need to optimize performance. According to Frost & Sullivan, cloud service usage grew 18% in 2017, resulting in $250 billion in revenue generated around the world, right alongside Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) growth of 20%, or $46 billion, and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) growth of 23%, or about $9 billion. And according to a recent McAfee survey of nearly 1,400 IT professionals, 59% of respondents are deploying a combination of public and private cloud services to meet their transformative goals.
For a CIO, the transformative advantages of the cloud model are obvious; companies are required to pay for only what they use, its availability scales to need, and service is resilient and responsive, among other benefits. And all of these attributes combine to enable the innovation necessary to stay competitive while addressing some key logistical and cyber security concerns. But regardless of the cloud's advantages, its usefulness is limited by the business applications' and operations' capability to utilize it. If a company's traditional IT infrastructure or staff is ill-equipped to capitalize, the technology's potential could go to waste.
These IT infrastructure limitations come in two flavors: one, the proprietary technology or application the business relies on is built in-house and so unique that it's unable to fully interface with cloud services, or two, the team managing the business's IT either lacks cloud environment training, or is left out of the loop when it comes to decisions about cloud-based applications and tools. Shifting part of a business's operations to the cloud does not automatically mean an increase in profitability or production. However, even with the expertise to make the transition, numerous practical questions remain:
- Are the physical components of your network able to accommodate the increased data flow and optimized to incorporate cloud communication protocols?
- When deploying a suite of IoT devices that depend on constant interactivity, how do you assure they maintain their connection to a cloud-based application?
- What kind of redundant physical solutions are needed to augment the cloud service security protocols and assure data is protected at every level?
- How can your business assure it always has access to a back-up of the materials it shares to the cloud and what financial risks are involved should contingency plans fail?
Infrastructure-as-a-service providers are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between cloud services and businesses' IT infrastructure. Not only do IaaS providers offer their services in a cost-reducing utility model similar to that of SaaS or PaaS providers, but they are best equipped to facilitate a traditional IT department's transition to a cutting-edge cloud environment.
Imagine you're the CIO of a large retail enterprise. Is your retail chain deploying a new omnichannel, cloud-based application to the new smart mirrors featured in hundreds of stores? The IaaS provider is able to respond at scale to make sure the physical components needed are of the highest quality and operating correctly. Is your manufacturing facility deploying a new suite of control software to modify the behavior of the robotic production line? The IaaS provider will determine what kind of network design and peripherals assure the most stable, constant connection between the cloud-based program and the automated machinery.
By redesigning or upgrading your IT infrastructure with an eye toward incorporating cloud services as foundational components CIOs can be certain their environment is flexible enough to not just incorporate the new technology, but use it as a the launch pad for the next innovation. This holistic approach facilitated by partnership with an IaaS provider offers three major advantages in implementing cloud services:
- Although cloud services are popular they are still relatively new. Migrating applications and operations from in-house systems to the cloud (regardless of whether it is public or private) requires specific tools and knowledge that not every IT team is able to provide. According to a 2016 survey from McKinsey & Company, the scarcity of knowledge accounts, at least in part, for the more than half of IT leader respondents who have managed to move less than 5% of their operations to the cloud. IaaS providers understand that its flexibility and self-service is often viewed as one of the cloud's primary benefits, even the most passionate IT leader may need assistance. Not only are IaaS providers best equipped to deliver the expertise needed in preparing infrastructure for cloud service adoption, but with a partner handling core operations, IT team members are free to focus on those important projects.
- While high quality customer support is a major part of the appeal of cloud services, they cannot typically see the big picture of a business's operations. From the nature and shape of an IT environment to the abilities and knowledge of its staff, if a cloud service isn't working, there are innumerable variables to take into consideration when trouble-shooting. IaaS providers offer an on-the-ground perspective on technical issues, and can act as advocates for businesses should circumstances warrant. And as regulations regarding data storage and access begin to be developed and implemented around the world, this close working relationship provides a level of adaptability that cloud services can't provide on its own.
- Because the top 15 cloud service providers comprise almost 70% of the market share, the risk of systemic failure or security breech is magnified. While hours or days of service down time could mean data or revenue loss, a major breech at one of these providers could result in investigation, litigation, and breach of trust with customers, such as we recently saw with Facebook. And according to the previously mentioned McAfee survey, "40% of IT leaders are slowing cloud adoption due to a shortage of cybersecurity skills."
IaaS providers understand that a robust security posture requires more than faith in the SaaS or PaaS provider; it requires a comprehensive approach that minimizes a business's exposures at every level of the IT infrastructure, from the physical storage of data to the encryption on network peripherals.
As the opportunities afforded by technological innovations become more complex, the IT infrastructure and strategy through which those innovations are deployed become more vital. Only a business's leaders can best determine how to evolve its model and operations for the Digital Age. But the success of transformative ideas will depend on the support of those IaaS providers who are best able to understand not just the technical aspects of cloud services or the components used to implement them, but how those services and components align with and facilitate a business's goals.
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