9 Things We Should be Doing to Leverage Cloud Computing

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While cloud adoption is fairly widespread in the US and many more developed economies, the path to the cloud is just beginning for many organizations and IT service providers in less developed countries around the world. Preparing now can help make the path to the cloud easier and help groups to start to benefit from cloud technologies today.

NDI and other International development organizations that provide IT or ICT services should be preparing their partners around the world for cloud computing. Here are nine things that we should be doing now:

  1. Use software as a service (SaaS) whenever possible. Small organizations should avoid building internal infrastructures and managing services however small, and instead subscribe to these services hosted in the cloud. For example, small or even medium sized organizations should strongly consider taking advantage of email and collaborative services (calendar, contacts , etc.), CRM applications, hosted project management software, even hosted accounting software if possible. Google, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Basecamp and others provide these services in the cloud at a low cost. This not only greatly simplifies office operations and lowers costs, but in most cases would be more much secure, reliable and may solve the problem of providing staff access to their services and data remotely including from mobile devices - a must going forward.
  2. Minimize investments and complexity of on-premise systems: consider avoiding investments in local network, data storage and backup systems. Internal networks should be simple, with minimal networking infrastructure such as directory servers, fileservers, mail servers, domain servers, etc. In some situations, with a good Internet connection much of this investment can be avoided and the costs and headaches of procuring, deploying and maintaining these internal network services minimized, allowing organizations to focus resources and staff on their core mission or competencies, not IT.
  3. Consider storing shared and individual documents in the cloud: putting documents in the cloud can be more secure, more reliable, can make the documents accessible remotely or from mobile devices, and provides a safe place for storage should computers or other equipment fail, get lost or stolen. Many organizations and individuals are not currently keeping recent backups of their data so this can address that serious oversight as well. Google Docs, Dropbox, SugarSync and many other companies provide online document collaboration and storage services, some of which will sync copies of your documents on multiple computers simultaneously.
  4. When deploying on-premise servers and services, virtualize them and start to build your own private cloud: virtualizing applications has become the standard in the IT industry for most applications and can be used reliably in production environments. Because virtualization requires a change in the way servers and networks are configured, data is stored and systems are secured it is prudent to plan and build your applications and services for the cloud from the outset to save money on your eventual cloud migration, even if you are not in a position to build private clouds from the outset. Microsoft, VMware, Citrix and others as well as a couple open source virtualization technologies such as Xen or Red Hat are available, costs vary widely, non-profit discounts may be available from some vendors.
  5. Host websites on virtual machines in the cloud: in many cases website hosting can and should be done with providers that offer virtual hosting - meaning your site runs on a virtual machine on the provider's servers - sometimes called virtual private servers or VPS. Shared, dedicated and other hosting plans are outdated or inappropriate for many small sites, usually more expensive, and often less secure and reliable than virtual hosting. Virtual hosting usually allows you to scale up resources for your site as it grows or temporarily, such as for big events or activities when bursts of site visits can be anticipated. In most cases, it's also easy and inexpensive to host additional websites on a virtual host with minimal technical work by using pre-installed tools and images from your virtual hosting provider - reducing the time it takes to build and deploy new sites. There are lots of virtual hosting companies, the key is to make sure you're signing up for virtual hosting, as opposed to traditional shared or dedicated hosting plans.
  6. Consider deploying virtual desktops: for medium-sized organizations, managing dozens or hundreds of desktop computers can be expensive, but as importantly it is very resource intensive to keep the machines clean and virus-free in today's challenging security environment. Deploying virtual desktops centralizes and simplifies the management of desktops that can have significant benefits including freeing up limited IT staff resources to work on tasks other than removing viruses from staff computers, and can remove the burden on staff of keeping their desktops updated with the latest software updates.
  7. Avoid "client-server" applications in your organization: most companies offer browser-based versions of their applications that can be run within your network, and these should be deployed instead of client-server configurations when possible. Supporting client server apps and moving them to the cloud later will be much more difficult and costly than deploying browser-based applications from the outset. If you've already got some client-server apps, build their migration to web-based or even SaaS applications into your cloud strategy.
  8. Start planning your cloud strategy now, regardless of your current IT infrastructure and services: when on-premise data centers or server rooms are needed, they should be planned from the outset using cloud technologies including consolidated storage systems (SANs) and leverage virtualization technologies. This will make the eventual migration to the cloud easier and reduce the future cloud technology investment. It's never too early to put in place your virtualization strategy and plan - even if the migration to the cloud seems years away.
  9. Security planning and education should be integral to cloud computing strategy: Include in your security plan an effort to educate your staff or users about the security challenges of working in the cloud. This should address issues such as the importance of keeping their computers and phones clean and virus free, good password policies and practices, how to identify phishing and similar attacks, avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks including how to safely use wifi services, etc. They should be reminded that running anti-virus software and avoiding email attachments is no longer an adequate security posture.

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