How the cloud is powering a new era of business opportunity Featured

9:06pm EDT June 30, 2012
How the cloud is powering a new era of business opportunity

Cloud computing is revolutionizing information technology, and if it hasn’t yet impacted your business, it will soon, says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.

“Cloud computing is a new way of delivering resources, not a new technology,” says Maloney. “And the timing for cloud computing to reach critical mass couldn’t come at a better point.

In today’s belt-tightening climate, this new economic model for computing is enabling companies to accomplish more with less, and the move to cloud-based computing marks a historic point in the evolution of business.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to harness the power of the cloud for growth, profit and success.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. The cloud allows users to connect from anywhere at any time, making connections via a shared platform.

Until the advent of the cloud, computing tasks were not possible without the application of software on a computer. You bought a license, installed the application and then used the program. With the development of local area networks, or LANs, the client-server model of computing was born, offering an opportunity to begin sharing resources.

Today, cloud computing has leapfrogged the client server model by providing applications from a server that is accessed from a web browser.

Is use of the cloud catching on with U.S. companies?

In a June 2011 survey of U.S. companies, only about 28 percent were using cloud computing in a meaningful way. However, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for cloud capabilities.

More than 90 percent of IT executives believe that the cloud will provide some kind of business advantage to their businesses, 63 percent say they’ll realize cost savings and 29 percent say they’ll achieve increased flexibility.

How can the cloud environment impact businesses?

When it’s deployed properly, it should give a business extra value over a long period of time. It should be able to address the quick-changing needs of businesses better than traditional IT services do, and the cloud should enable business innovation. When you go to the cloud you reap the benefits of speed, agility, price, innovation, simplicity, a managed system and availability. Most of all, it’s about scalability. Whether you’re talking SaaS, DaaS, IaaS or any of the services, you can quickly scale up your activities to meet demand,  add new users and cut costs.

What are the shortcomings of the cloud?

The biggest concern may be security, which includes privacy, compliance, and legal and contractual issues. To be considered protected in the cloud, your data must be properly segregated from that of another company. Data protection, then, is a requirement for any enterprise that seeks to protect the core of its business. Businesses must also address other key areas, including physical security where data are stored, and customers must be sure that they will have regular and predictable access to their data and applications.

Cloud computing can offer the enterprise or mid-sized businesses a significant business advantage, but it’s up to you to understand the opportunities and risks involved. When evaluating any cloud model, make a detailed checklist to ensure you answer all the key questions fundamental to a successful deployment and utilization. Smart customers ask tough questions before committing to any cloud vendor.

What other factors should companies consider when looking at cloud use?

For any company looking to move to the cloud, it’s important to note that you are transferring new operating risk and requirements on to your network. Upon moving to the cloud, 100 percent of your application has to travel the WAN every time users want to access it. So it’s critically important to invest in your network infrastructure to ensure you have the uptime and reliability you need.

As you conduct your evaluation of network providers you should look at four key criteria:

  • Absolute speed. What is the absolute speed of the underlying transport that is available to you as more traffic from all users begins traversing the network? Traffic doesn’t necessarily grow linearly, but it will grow with your users and the number of applications you add over time. Your ability to turn up bandwidth quickly is critical.
  • Network reliability. Now that you have 100 percent of your traffic traversing the network every time a customer or employee accesses the application, the reliability of your network becomes that much more important.
  • Scalability. This is critical to scale up to add applications, users and sites. The network must provide immediate opportunity for growth. In this new cloud-based approach, you can easily manage capacity by adding bandwidth, and that changes the conversation with your network service provider.
  • Application-specific bandwidth control. Not all applications are created equal. You must be able to deploy application-specific bandwidth controls so that  you can decide where to prioritize your traffic to address load conditions, or just to ensure that those mission-critical real-time applications get the bandwidth they need.

These criteria serve as a starting point, but you should pull back the covers on any communications company to examine the network infrastructure and the core attributes in the heart of the operation.

Mike Maloney is vice president of business services at Comcast. Reach him at Michael_Maloney@cable.comcast.com.

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