My head has been spinning since I recently returned from TechEd 2014 in Houston. The computing landscape is obviously undergoing a fairly dramatic shift. It’s all about the cloud.
“The cloud” is massive banks of computers in data centers around the world. Users access programs and services over the Internet. Microsoft is aggressively retooling its entire product line to operate in the cloud. It seems clear to me that, within the next three to five years, the majority of enterprises will do most work in the cloud.
TechEd is Microsoft’s annual chance to learn about new products, hear from Microsoft executives and receive training. About 8,000 people from all over the U.S. and Europe attend.
The move to the cloud will be almost undetectable to users. But it marks an enormous change for the better for IT departments and their operations. The cloud means no more big computers onsite, no more worrying about disk and file server space, no more new-parts procurement cycles. IT can be much more responsive and flexible to business needs.
In essence, computing power will resemble the electric service you buy from the power company – usage-based, infinitely scalable and billed by the month.
Enterprises will use the cloud for backup, disaster recovery, storage and more. Security issues have essentially been solved – the Microsoft cloud is approved for use in government, health care and the military. Costs continue to drop, and depreciation and capital expenditure headaches disappear. Finally, removing the burden of hardware “care and feeding” frees up IT to perform higher-level work for the business, rather than mucking around, keeping network “plumbing” functioning.
Are you ahead of the curve – or behind it?
Forward-thinking businesses should engage professional consulting resources now, and systematically begin planning their migration to the cloud. Migrating in an organized and methodical fashion beats being forced into it by your software vendor(s) by miles.
But moving to the cloud requires infrastructure redesign, bandwidth analysis, provisions for redundant connections and more. This should only be done with a great deal of forethought, but most businesses do not have the in-house expertise to pull it off. The potential consequences of badly designed cloud infrastructure include data loss, poor performance and plenty of frustration. The upside of a successful migration onto a well-designed infrastructure will pay you back for years to come.
Making the move
Microsoft has optimized its flagship management suite, System Center, to seamlessly manage computing resources no matter where they are – in the cloud or onsite. It’s often possible to migrate live applications to the cloud without users even realizing a change has occurred!
Most companies will probably start with a “hybrid” solution, with some components of the datacenter onsite and some moving to the cloud, rather than moving everything all at once.
A great place to start is email. Microsoft Exchange, far and away the most popular email platform in the world, runs transparently in the cloud, and works on virtually every platform in use today. From smartphones to laptops to tablets, from Android to Apple to Windows, cloud-based email is accessible anywhere at any time.
Bottom line: Like it or not, cloud computing is coming. Is your business ready?