June 15, 2015

Guest blog post: The 4 Cs of choosing a cloud solution

David Williams

Partner Enterprise Architect, Microsoft

Struggling to understand whether a public or private cloud is the better fit for your business? Consider the four Cs: compliance, customisation, cost and consumption.

Most IT professionals have no problem understanding the finer differences between public cloud services and hosted and on-premise private cloud solutions. Knowing when to use one and when to use another isn't always black and white, granted, but the distinction is one we observe on a regular basis.

Present the public versus private cloud debate to a non-technical audience, however, and confusion can arise. For years now, IT professionals have struggled to articulate these finer differences to board members and senior executives. And if the business case for one kind of cloud over another doesn't make sense to the financial decision-maker, it can be difficult to secure investment and deliver the right solution for the business.

From my experience, though, there's a way we can make the process of choosing a cloud deployment model simpler and easier-to-understand for everyone: by focusing on what I call the four Cs. These are compliance, customisation, cost and consumption, and collectively, they offer a comprehensive and user-friendly framework to assess different cloud solutions.

1. Compliance

The first of the four Cs is compliance. Many IT professionals would substitute 'security' here, but I would argue that in the context of public versus private cloud, the term is subjective and misleading. Solutions like Office 365 and Azure have a wide range of security features, but the real question for enterprises is whether they comply with the myriad rules they're required to follow.

These rules can include legal obligations, industry-specific regulations and even internal mandates such as privacy agreements with end users. Whatever the case, organisations that map out their compliance requirements from a cloud solution can steer the discussion away from hazy notions of security towards a better understanding of their tangible needs.

They can also establish whether following all of their rules is strictly necessary, as some may be based on erroneous or outdated information.

2. Customisation

Customisation means knowing whether a cloud solution can be freely altered and adapted to meet business needs. A general, but not universal, rule of thumb is that public cloud services are less customisable than hosted and on-premise private cloud solutions, which provide the end user with more open access to the underlying infrastructure.

Why do organisations need this kind of functionality in the cloud? One reason is integration with existing systems: a solution might have to hook into external CRM and ERP applications in order to be effective, for example. Not all services offer this degree of flexibility, earning customisation a place among the four Cs.

3. Cost

Cost has been fundamental to the ascendancy of off-premise IT, and thanks to economies of scale, public cloud providers can offer massive amounts of storage and computing power on-demand at extremely competitive prices. In comparison, an on-premise private cloud requires investments in infrastructure and ongoing maintenance alongside basic capacity.

The cost differential between these solutions is such that it can sometimes be a driver in itself: organisations might choose to challenge their internal compliance rules and even change business processes in order to unlock lower costs.

4. Consumption

The final C is consumption, which in this context refers to the degree of elasticity the business requires. One of the key principles of the cloud is that you should never run out of capacity, but the actual process of scaling up and down can vary wildly from one solution to another. Some make it very easy to set up and decommission servers in a matter of minutes, whereas others are not as responsive.

So, for example, organisations that experience significant peaks and troughs in network activity - such as retailers around the Christmas period - have consumption patterns that demand a high degree of elasticity. Others may work to a more consistent level, meaning their requirements aren't so strict.

This wraps up the four Cs of choosing a cloud solution. For each business problem you need to solve with IT, ask: what are our compliance barriers? Will we need bespoke development? What's our budget? And will the way we use the solution change over time?

You'll quickly find that the confusion dissipates and it becomes much easier to achieve radical change in the way your organisation does business with IT.

David Williams works as Partner Enterprise Architect at Microsoft. His passion is driving business change and revenue through Microsoft´s enterprise partner channel, helping partners, such as Tieto, to create, develop and sell cloud-based solutions and services, by sharing best practice and providing architecture knowledge and technical resources.

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