The cloud might be a buzzword that many feel is overused, but for Jessica Carroll, managing director of information and digital technology for the United States Golf Association, it is vital to her company’s operations.
She recently had a potent reminder of the value of her cloud-based operations when Hurricane Sandy swooped in at the end of October and knocked power out at the association’s headquarters in central New Jersey for a week.
“There are many things that we've moved out to the cloud because we have to stay up and running and I can’t be worrying about the trees falling down on the line at any given time,” Carroll said while speaking at the Cloud World Forum North America conference in New York City.
Hart Singh, a founding member of the National Cloud Technologists Association and the host for the conference, described the enterprise’s transition to the cloud in stark tones, comparing it to moving from a developing nation to a developed nation.
“All of these building blocks are available to you. It's like coming to America from Burundi. You assume [there’s] electricity, you assume [there’s] power, you assume [there’s] Internet and you [there are] assume roads. Everything you need is there," he said in his opening remarks.
Singh challenged everyone to be ambitious. The cloud, he argues, frees IT workers up to focus on providing value to the business instead of maintaining hardware.
"You have to ask yourself, 'How would I compete with myself?' Because that is the opportunity,” Singh insisted.
Cloud Doesn’t Mean Skipping Due Diligence
Some companies might get the idea that all cloud solutions are turn-key, but the reality is that the cloud needs supervision. Several of the IT leaders at Cloud World Forum North America reiterated time and time again that moving the cloud requires organizations to invest in management and oversight.
"Just because you have a third-party [cloud] provider doesn't mean you wash your hands of IT," says Bill Curran, director of information technology at ITC. “As we're looking at [cloud] solutions, we have to make sure that it's a real solution that'll meet our needs.”
When it comes to vetting a cloud provider, Curran leaves no stone unturned. He asks questions about redundancy, where the data is stored, how the data is stored and he asks to watch how the backup process is conducted.
"We even make sure the temperatures in their computer rooms are proper," Curran adds.
Nikita Reva, global security assessment specialist for Mars, had a valuable tip for businesses looking to get the real scoop on a cloud vendor: Ask for a technical contact.
“They'll typically be more honest than a sales guy,” he said.
Moving Faster than Ever
Users and customers expect technology to just work — and fast. The cloud can significantly accelerate operations and processes within an organization. For companies in financial services, speed is everything. Money can evaporate in seconds if trades aren’t made as fast as possible, which is why the cloud has been so invaluable for Richie Etwaru, chief operations officer for group technology platform services at UBS.
During a panel that saw IT leaders share how the cloud had transformed their organizations, Etwaru cited the increased speed with which he can set up a developer today compared to when he started at the company 5 years ago as a game-changer.
“It used to take about six weeks,” Etwaru says. “Now, I’m able to set an intern up in six minutes and get him coding right away.”
This is possible because access to the development environment is simple turn on and off and the virtual desktop used to set up an employee is delivered through cloud services, he said.
While the cloud does demand IT departments experiment and innovate, it doesn’t have to mean they enter a whole new line of business. For Etwaru and UBS, leveraging the cloud means they’re free to do what they’ve always done. The difference is that with the cloud, work gets done much faster.
“We still do everything we did in the past, but we do it faster and better,” he said. “The cloud allows you to operate in a modern way.”