Cloud transformation strategies for information and communication technologies

Most UK SMEs, corporates and enterprises use on-premise IT infrastructure that they manage themselves. Consider, for example, business telephony – in June 2016 Gamma Communications revealed that there were 17.6M PBX extensions in the UK and Cavell Group found that there were 2.4M hosted telephony seats – so that’s about a 3:1 ratio in favour of a policy to use premises-based, legacy technology.

The vast majority of businesses are still using and managing IT infrastructure in the same way that they have always done. As the famous saying goes, ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always had’ and this applies to how you use and manage IT infrastructure.

Change can be good, and when it comes to technology, often making a small change to the way things are done can have transformational benefits to the way you work. So here are some of the reasons why companies may change the way they use and manage IT infrastructure and the benefits that this delivers.

Unified Communications as a Service

Although they work very well, perhaps the greatest disappointment about expanding PBXs and associated expand ISDN network services, is that despite the myriad of imaginative features and services they deliver, very few people use their business phone to do much more than making and receive calls. Today we just have DDI numbering, caller ID and call barring. Any attempts by the carriers to charge for services like call waiting, ring-back and user-to-user signalling failed miserably because customers didn’t see the value.

What changed most of all with unified communications (UC) is that the Internet enabled people to communicate in different ways which are more convenient or cheaper than by making phone calls. Instant messaging and presence is an example of a convenient, un-intrusive and informal way of exchanging information without having to make a call or write an email. Audio and web conferencing are features that UC can deliver far more cheaply than by using expensive telephony conference bridges. For businesses with an international footprint, this can be particularly beneficial.

Although the PBX vendors have sought to turn their PBXs into UC products, what has caught them out is the dash to the cloud, enabled by a combination of the Internet, cheap data connectivity and virtualisation. The overarching attributes of any UC as a Service (UCaaS) is its availability and security, so provided that UCaaS is demonstrably as reliable and secure as a premise-based system, what conceivable benefit is there of buying, hosting and maintaining your system? This factor comes into play when it’s time to upgrade a PBX or buy a new one. Does it make sense to commit to purchasing a system which has an intrinsic shelf-life and associated running costs when you can use UCaaS that does the job just as well, is future-proof and saves you money? Probably not. UCaaS is revolutionising the way businesses communicate, whether that be internally in the same office, with colleagues overseas of with customers across the world.

Cloud Computing

At IP Expo held in Manchester in May 2017, one of the speakers asked their audience “If you had a great technology idea and decided to create a start-up tomorrow, how many of you would buy your server?” Not one person in the room raised their hand – clear evidence that we just don’t do it that way anymore.

In Q1 2017, Canalys revealed that the global cloud computing market was worth a staggering £9bn, growing at 42% year-on-year. There’s no doubt that cloud computing is a facilitator. And companies are using it to improve their ability to innovate, migrate from legacy technology and manage peak capacity without having to buy additional resources that they will hardly ever use.

[easy-tweet tweet=”There are some different cloud options to choose from, all offering their own benefits. ” hashtags=”Cloud, IT”]

There are some different cloud options to choose from, all offering their own benefits. The market is dominated by public cloud vendors such as Amazon Web Services – public because it’s a resource shared by all users. These vendors provide simple and fast access to compute resource, ranging from a single server with one CPU to several thousand with multiple CPUs, delivered within minutes and charged for on a pay-per-use basis.

Private cloud, where compute resource is ring-fenced per customer, more closely resembles the UCaaS model, where a customer specifies a computing requirement and then commits to a 12-month or multi-year contract. Like a public cloud, each customer manages their own services, including the facility to move capacity between servers and to increase capacity to manage temporary peaks in demand.

Since hybrid cloud combines the customer’s own server infrastructure with public cloud compute resource, this is ideal for anyone who has decided to dispense with their own infrastructure but who wants to do it in little steps.

Rather than buying more premises-based servers, there has been a momentous shift towards cloud adoption, which is just as reliable, more flexible and cheaper. Computing has now become a utility available on tap rather than something that you need to own. And regardless of which option is adopted, cloud promises a range of different benefits to support and drive growth, while future-proofing operations.

Outsourced Managed IT

On 12 May 2017, many organisations, including the NHS, fell victim to a ransomware attack caused by a strain of malware known as WannaCry. Infected Windows computers displayed a message that files had been scrambled and that users would have to pay US$300 in Bitcoin to restore their documents. Operations and appointments that weekend were disrupted across the country and it took several days for things to get back to normal.

This attack, although serious, could have been a lot worse. For those that continuously monitor their networks, this attack will have been flagged, enabling them to put preventative measures in place to limit the spread of the infection. Since many businesses don’t have the resources to dedicate towards 24/7 proactive monitoring of their systems, they often opt for outsourcing the management of their IT to an external company that is guaranteed to be on hand at all times to address any issues before they impact the business. For a managed IT service provider, taking calls at any time of day, having up-to-date technical knowledge and knowing what to do in the event of an incident is their bread and butter.

In the case of the WannaCry ransomware attack, a managed IT specialist will have been particularly beneficial since they are often made aware of these issues in real-time and are therefore able to take systems offline as a precaution to limit the damage while the issue is taken care of.

Monitoring, maintaining and managing IT equipment is something that many companies do themselves, but often to the detriment of what really matters – the business-critical applications and data. For an IT department to become a profit centre, rather than a cost of doing business, its staff need to be focused on the company’s information while a dedicated team looks after its equipment. This is a relatively simple change to make and offers the additional benefit of improving compliance.

It often doesn’t take much to spark positive change within a business, particularly when these technologies are so readily available. Often the biggest challenge is taking the leap in the first place.

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