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Boosting business agility through the cloud

Companies are looking to the cloud to support agile IT service delivery models like software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). As a result, there is a growing shift towards the "utility" approach for non-core services, and increased investment in core functionality using the cloud. In turn, spending is moving from traditional IT assets in the data centre, for instance, towards assets accessed in the cloud.

Related: The five biggest cloud security concerns explained

As part of the move to the cloud, demand is shifting from traditional proprietary and highly-customised assets to ubiquitous assets that are accessed by staff, customers and partners. This HP whitepaper explains how the cloud can deliver the business agility companies are now demanding across their operations, and what they have to do to benefit from it.

More business-centric IT services

The cloud is driving the migration from the "IT-as-a-cost-centre" model to a more business-centric "IT-as-a-service" model. This new type of IT creates improved approaches at each critical layer of a modern architecture: infrastructure, applications and end-user access.

This means that IT shifts from producing services to optimising production and consumption of those services in ways consistent with business requirements. This changes the role of IT from a cost centre to a centre of strategic value. A cloud infrastructure using this principle will lead to technology and services being delivered to corporate users and customers that they need to do their jobs or complete transactions, for instance, rather than technologies being deployed to support IT itself.

More self-service and a move to unified communications

With this model, IT should be able to produce solutions using a self-service model, with policies and contracts aligning resources to business needs. The physical boundaries that have governed enterprise IT will erode, establishing pools of resources combining those of the enterprise data centre with those provided by external or public cloud providers. This will be done without compromising security or quality of service.

The service-based nature of the cloud is also seen as a driver for the wider adoption of unified communications (UC), which cover and combine desk, remote and mobile working.

From capex to opex

With this way of UC working in the cloud, companies can activate employee subscriptions on a per-user basis, and there is no need to purchase additional computer hardware and software to do it - further illustrating how the cloud supports the move from Capex to Opex expenditure, with companies saving money as a result.

Cloud providers with their own comprehensive global network and key technology partners in place to enable them to offer hosted and secure UC hardware and software via the cloud are in pole position to offer such unified communications.

Getting your network right

What sits between you and the cloud is a critical success factor in cloud computing. With firms' networks changing and expanding rapidly in response to technology and business needs, it's now more important than ever for organisations to build flexibility and agility into their cloud network service provider contracts.

Companies need to scale their network in response to business needs, and need to consider server virtualisation and WAN (wide area network) optimisation to help do it, as simply buying more bandwidth to cope can prove too expensive.

Server virtualisation within a managed service provider's environment allows for many benefits, including lower capital expenditure as a result of not having to buy and support in-house physical hardware and software. There is also the ability for server and application requirements to be relatively easily scaled up - or scaled back - to meet business requirements. This also reduces costs, as resources are only paid for when they are needed.

Extra bandwidth and optimisation

Buying extra bandwidth can prove costly for many firms but they should also remember that WAN optimisation systems can initially cost much more before any savings are eventually realised. WAN optimisation systems are designed to minimise data "chatter" on the network, making it more efficient to transport traffic across it, but they usually need to be carefully managed to deliver benefits to the bottom line, particularly in large organisations with many disparate sites.

Agile service provider contracts

Agile network service provider contracts have to be established before companies can get the full benefits of cloud services. Service level agreements cannot be standardised, as performance that is acceptable for one service might not be for another. And cloud service providers must be required to work to benchmarks based on service levels historically achieved by the internal IT organisation.

Providers' claims about service levels should be validated against reports of problems from end-users. That said, does the business really need to bear the cost of premium reliability for every service? Different departments for instance may require different service levels.

Many cloud service providers offer their clients online portals that provide access to real-time data on the performance and status of their managed infrastructure and services. Some also provide automated reporting and alerts.

Related: Modern business - If you don't embrace change and agility, you'll fail

However, don't rely exclusively on the monitoring and reporting offered by each cloud service provider. Consider deploying an independent system to monitor the availability and performance of both your internally-managed and external cloud applications to get an overall view.

Only after all these factors are taken into consideration can organisations fully benefit from the business agility possible through cloud working.