Is it time for you draw up a cloud road map?

Every emerging information technology has a coming of age when it is presented in the phrase, “The Year of …”. Having lived through a number of these, I’m a bit skeptical whenever this phrase is applied to a technology change that is generating a lot of buzz, like cloud computing. Whether 2012 becomes “The Year of the Cloud” or not, I do believe this year is the right time to begin using cloud computing services in your business.Why? It is no secret that the most of your information technology budget is being spent on operations and maintenance, leaving roughly a quarter of it for improvements and new projects. The question is, how long can you maintain your legacy IT infrastructure in an economy that requires business flexibility in order to survive changing market conditions and where you need agility to react quickly to the emergence of new opportunities?It is an unsustainable situation to spend most of your IT budget on the maintenance of premises applications and a “heavyweight” technology infrastructure that does not support your ability to improve the effectiveness of IT services in your business. The question is, how can you keep your information services up to date and flexible when you are saddled with all of your legacy IT baggage?The short answer is you can’t. You need to begin cutting ties to your legacy IT past and embrace your IT future in the cloud.I suspect that kind of advice could trigger an unsettling feeling, similar to finding out you have to relearn everything you know over a weekend. In reality, throwing out your 75-pound servers and 25-pound PCs and reaching for the cloud is not a terribly good strategy. And unless you are a new business, you will not be starting with a clean slate when it comes to your use of information services.However, your migration to the cloud will be affected by the nature of your existing applications and the willingness of everyone in your business to do this cloud thing together.Have a strategyAs a way to organize your thinking and coordinate your actions, you will need a cloud strategy for your business and a road map for undertaking your migration to the cloud. This will keep your actions aligned with your objectives.That said, your cloud strategy should be revised periodically because your business situation and the economic environment are both subject to change. Modifications to your strategy will alter your road map, so accept the fact that change happens.Once your cloud strategy is completed, you can determine your own best way to get there. You may find that the easiest and least risky thing to do is to select a “commodity” application you are using, like messaging, and move it to the cloud to gain some confidence. Or you may select an application that is a “pain point” for you because it is no longer supported by the vendor or is too expensive to upgrade or it no longer meets the needs of the business and replace it with an application in the cloud that will do what you need.Internet Web browsing security is an easy-to-implement and extremely useful cloud service. And with the rapid growth in all types of data, cloud storage is becoming increasingly popular. Cloud storage is suitable for storing backup data from your PCs, laptops and servers, archive data from certain applications that you must retain for regulatory compliance along with other unstructured data like videos from surveillance systems, photos and scanned business documents.Discovering and evaluating dozens of information services available in the cloud can make your head spin. You may realize you don’t have enough time or sufficient background in cloud computing to make appropriate decisions. And do you really want to become a “cloud geek” to do this?If you would rather work with your information services than on your information technology, then you should engage with someone who can help you get into the cloud sooner with fewer missteps and better results.After all, 2012 could be the Year of the Cloud, so don’t miss out on it.Tim Wessels, cloud navigator at Oort Cloud Computing, Rindge, has worked with small and medium businesses building and maintaining their IT systems for over 25 years.