When a company is serious about promoting it's own product, it's usually beneficial to the potential customer-base to see how the product works in the real world. This is never more true than in the software industry. If you offer a product or service and you claim it has tangible benefits on the day-to-day running of a business, what better way to demonstrate this than to use the product yourself? That is exactly what Microsoft UK is doing by moving it's in-house IT department to Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud storage service. Their roll-out has begun by moving thousands of user mailboxes to Office 365. This is Microsoft's cloud version of traditional Microsoft Office, something the company has made huge investments in for the future of Office. Their road map states that by 2015, 80% of their business applications will also run in the cloud.
An enterprise the size of Microsoft has huge challenges ahead in meeting these goals. While their operating costs have gone down and certain systems' uptime has improved, that comes at a loss of control or at least the perceived loss of control. One of the biggest hurdles in cloud computing right now for any organisation is the worry that moving your business systems from your local servers to a data centre means that your are no longer in total control of your IT systems. You have also introduced a huge single point of failure to your business systems topology: your internet connection.
Imagine the scenario. It's Monday morning. You have a presentation on-site with a customer. They will be arriving at your site in less than an hour and your IT department informs you the internet connection is down. What now? The PowerPoint presentation you spent all weekend working on via Office 365 is stored in the cloud and you have no access to it! That's ok, you have a cached copy of it on your laptop. You just need to update the figures and add the projections and you are good to go. Your ERP and CRM system is also stored in the cloud so you have no access to this information. If your systems were all running in the on-site server farm you wouldn't have had these problems!
In reality, this scenario, whilst plausible, would be a worst-case scenario. If your business did move to a cloud-connected ecosystem, your IT department would ensure that your internet connection was up to the job and had excellent Service Level Agreements in place should such a problem arise. The truth is, you could suffer just as much downtime on a traditional setup. Is your current ERP system on a virtualised server? Do you have products such as vMotion to ensure if a physical server goes down, the OS can be moved to new hardware with minimal downtime? If not, you probably have a lot less 'control' or protection than a cloud connected business.
Cloud computing certainly isn't for everyone right now. If an organisation is looking to move to the cloud, this has to be a business conversation at the top-level. You need to draw up a business case and prove that moving to the cloud can reduce costs. If the business runs legacy applications, how will you handle those during the transition to the cloud? Many business start by moving their mailboxes to the cloud because it's a cheap initial investment and companies such as Google and Microsoft offer very competitive pricing per-mailbox. The mistake a lot of SME's make is that they don't progress beyond this. Moving mailboxes is one thing, migrating your financial accounts system is quite another.
I believe more businesses are ready for the cloud than they think. Microsoft has started the transition so do I think that we all should follow suit? Maybe not right away, but I do think companies should start compiling a business case today so they can be prepared for what happens tomorrow.