Cloud and Hosted Services: Evolution or Revolution

No doubt you’ve heard the buzz word “Cloud” services. So it’s time to throw away your servers and move all of your applications to a virtual data center environment right?

There is currently a paradigm shift occuring in the IT world, and to a lesser extent in the telecom world, and it goes by many names, such as “Cloud Computing”, “Software as a Service”, “Platform as a Service”, “Infrastructure as a Service”, “Hosted Voice”, “Communications as a Service” or the more application oriented “Predictive Dialer in the cloud”.

Wth numerous providers having multiple cloud based offerings, like Intuit and (software and platform) and AT&T and Verizon (platform and infrastructure), plus a multitude of application cloud hosting providers such as Rackspace, Amazon, Google and HP, the decision is not simply whether to use the cloud, it’s which cloud provider offers the best solution.

And whether it’s applications, infrastructure, or a platform you migrate to the cloud today, it will be more in the future. Why? Because IT/Telecom departments have been asked to deliver high availability, feature rich applications but many lack the resources and technology infrastructure needed to accomplish the task, it would require a high cost “technology refresh”.

While the driving force behind the increased adoption the past few years has been the challenging economic climate, it will continue to evolve because IT/Telecom departments have been asked (forced) to reduce their capital expenditures. The reason the Cloud has been so successful is because it allows IT/Telecom departments to get what they need without the big price tag.

And they’ve moved past the failures of the 2000’s dotcom era when Cloud services made promises that couldn’t be delivered. Cloud Services now are more robust, reliable, and responsive, but the key to the adoption is they allow enterprises to reduce capital expenditures and transfer costs to the balance sheet as an operating expense, which keeps the finance folks from writing large one-time checks or negotiating leases for equipment that might become outdated before they’re paid off.

Embracing the “Cloud” and paying for services on a consumption based model can have benefits beyond just simply shifting capital expenses to operating expenses. Leveraging a service providers infrastructure allows IT departments to rapidily deploy and scale applications on an “as needed” basis, and the “Infrastructure as a Service” can be delivered with an ability to create a robust BCDR (Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery) Plan.

And there in lies the challenge, not all cloud service are created equal, Cloud Architect from AT&TVerizon with their purchase of Terramark, and Savvis with CenturyLink for instance. These carriers have the network infrastructure size and scope to build cloud service offerings with redundant points of failure for little cost, while Rackspace and several stand alone providers must build out there own networks at a higher cost.

And this can cause challenges for the many businesses that are now relying on cloud services, hosted telephony, and other types of hosted services. Case in point, the recent events in the Northeast with Hurricane Sandy. Many customers served by single data center cloud services companies found their services weren’t working, their servers were underwater, and the reason most of these providers didn’t have back up sites was due to the high cost.

What all this means is that Enterprise Decision Makers need to due a great deal of due diligence prior to selecting a cloud based or hosted telephony provider, and they should take the time to understand how the underlying network failover procedures work, dive deep into BCDR procedures.

Having several clients with substantial operations in New York and New Jersey I was once again reminded how an ounce of network planning prevention is worth a pound of cure during a catastrophic network or co-location facility outage. This is where cloud services shined in keeping enterprises up and running, as their cloud services just moved to the back up site in the BCDR plan, and it’s also were Cloud Services weren’t a great idea as server facilities were lost at many single location sites.

E-Commerce sites went down, Hosted Phone Services went down, Enterprise Single Switch PBX’s serving other areas of the country went down, and then weren’t accessible to clients and employees from areas where there were no issues.

Cloud services are both evolving at a rapid pace and revolutionizing the “Best Practices” of launching applications, platforms and infrastructure. As the Cloud Services revolution rocks on with an ever increasing diverse field of providers, the one point to always consider is to choose vendors with robust BCDR and network redundancy. Selecting an Active-Active Geographically Diverse Cloud solution is always the best way to go, and it shouldn’t be more costly if sourced correctly, after all you wouldn’t want your only cloud to be underwater.

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