Get to the cloud (and save money)!

How many C-level executives have heard or uttered this phrase in the last week; for that matter in the last 24 hours? And how many of them really know what they are asking for?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology gives a good high level definition of the cloud. Is cloud computing really that new? As with most things, life is circular (what goes around comes around), so maybe the technology specifics are new but not the concept. Anyway, the definition states that the cloud will save money (hence the utterings in the c-suite). Cloud vendors (and what hardware or software supplier isn’t a cloud provider today?) continually ensure that the cloud will save you money; so it must be true, right? But will it really? Like all things, the answer is – it depends (don’t you hate that!).

There are great reasons for using Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or Platform as a Service (PaaS). I think particularly in R&D situations where you have varying compute needs versus having dedicated hardware to meet your highest capacity compute requirements. Crunching big data is probably another area where the cloud could save money. In both scenarios I believe you need data retention policies that are enforced (probably true in or out of the cloud) to ensure your variable storage requirements and associated costs don’t just escalate. You have cost in set up and ensuring you continue to get what you pay for over time but you are relived of the day-to-day operational costs and pay for the benefits. I am sure you have other scenarios where you can save money using compute services in the cloud.

As indicated in an earlier blog, I love applications; I appreciate infrastructure (IaaS and PaaS) but it’s really just a vehicle to run applications (I am not biased or anything)! So I have a business operations application centric view when looking at the cloud. Software as a Service (SaaS) is the predominant cloud choice (or whatever aaS you want to call the on-demand flavor) for running your business. I am not convinced that the cloud is always a money saver in this situation.

The Upper Edge LLC blog has an interesting series about SaaS and On Demand contracts and whether there is really a lot of difference in your cost commitments, SaaS Matters: When “On Demand” Really Isn’t.  For you finance people in the crowd (or is that cloud) how do you feel about capital expense (CapEx) versus operational expense (OpEx)? I am such a conservative that predictable CapEx depreciation makes me feel good. Although from the Upper Edge point of view, maybe you get predictable OpEx using cloud SaaS options. Variable expense is something you should consider as you think about getting to the cloud and saving money.

Another cloud cost consideration from a business operations perspective is integration. Certainly in the early stages of your company, getting your business up and running is a great economical use of SaaS. And fit for function SaaS offerings which are best of breed in doing one thing really well are great choices too. But get too many independent SaaS offerings that need to work together and your cost savings may begin to erode or even disappear. There is not only the cost of integrating the applications but productivity must be considered also. If a single user has to go to multiple applications to complete their work and the configurations and integrations do not provide the necessary consistency, productivity could very well take a dive. The cost of supporting your business users in your unique cloud environment will also be affected by the consistency of integrations.

The cloud and saving money may often but not always be synonymous; it depends. So be cautious if cost savings are your only reason to “Get to the Cloud!”

© Ellen Terwilliger 2012