In a fast growing and ever changing Information Technology world, the variety of IT solutions, tools and services is increasing on a daily basis. How do we keep up, and how do we focus on providing the best solution to the business units?
For numerous years IT delivery in FAO has been centralized and IT delivery has been performed in a more traditional manner. The infrastructure is centralized through a corporate data center, the software is developed on an ad-hoc basis to meet the ever-changing needs of the organization and keeping up with such a fast-paced demand is becoming more and more difficult.
One of the avenues being explored is going to cloud based solutions. Moving to the cloud poses many challenges and we need to analyze diverse criteria before taking the plunge. In this article I will discuss some of the major considerations that were taken in the IT division. Cloud based technology is not new and is increasingly becoming the dominant model in IT. Unfortunately the lack of knowledge on cloud based solutions has been the biggest challenge in most organizations.
FAO has a traditional IT infrastructure with a centralized data center in each of the major offices and delivery of IT solutions has been through development projects based on the user’s requirements. Most of the organization’s IT delivery is managed in-house, with occasional assistance from software development companies, and for the majority of the corporate systems there is a history of continuous customizations due to policy changes that require continuous updates to the systems.
We have recently completed several applications using the Google suite of data tools including the Google Earth Engine and Google Maps which gave us access to an unprecedented volume of geospatial data, compute power through which we have been able to analyze in real-time satellite imagery to deliver actionable information. Without cloud services the solution would have been prohibitively costly and time consuming as it required the compilation of terabytes of satellite imagery and computer power far in excess of that available in a computer center geospatial data.
New skills are required including network configuration, security, server and database administration and systems operations and integration.
Solid fast Internet connectivity is paramount as availability and performance are directly dependent.
Moving large amounts of data to and from the cloud needs to be carefully considered e.g. massive amount of legacy geospatial or multimedia data.
Discipline in cloud resource usage is critical, only using what is needed and turn off when done.
A new internal chargeback/billing process is required.
Employee perception of privacy and data security needs to be carefully managed.
Ensuring the appropriate legal aspects have been addressed.
Vendor lock-in, once you move to the cloud it can be difficult to move vendor when highly desirable added value functions are used.
Moving to the cloud is part of the current mandate and future direction. It will be a complete transformation from the current traditional way of working. Recently the organization has moved to Office 365 in a seamless way with a transformation that required minimal training and included benefits that will be evident to users as they experience the new model in a more detailed way.
Cloud computing can save substantial capital costs with zero in house server storage and application development requirements. By not having an on-premises infrastructure removes the associated operational costs in the form of energy, air conditioning and support costs. We will be paying for what we use and disengage if needed as there is no invested IT capital to worry about.
Cloud computing is much more reliable and consistent than in-house IT infrastructure as most providers offer SLAs which guarantee 24×7 365 days a year and 99.99% availability. Organizations can benefit from a massive pool of redundant IT resources as well as quick failover mechanism. If a server fails then we are unlikely to know about it as the cloud providers have seamless failover..
The time required for IT procurement will be reduced dramatically. Organizations can deploy mission critical applications that deliver significant business benefits without any upfront costs and minimal provisioning time.
Cloud computing delivers faster recovery times and multi-site availability at a fraction of the cost of conventional disaster recovery. Cloud computing is based on virtualization, which is different from traditional disaster recovery approaches. With virtualization the entire server, including the operating system, applications, patches and data can be copied or backed up to an offsite data center and become available on a virtual host in a matter of minutes.
Tierney Smith of TechSoup Canada sums up the advantages as “The move towards the cloud holds a lot of exciting potential for nonprofits of all sizes. Not only are many organizations able to realize cost savings through not having to run and maintain their own server(s) (or pay a consultant to do so), many cloud tools enable new levels of sharing and collaboration, which can transform how we work. We live in a world where our supporters are looking to us for greater transparency and there is an increasing need to partner with other organizations to achieve real impact. Using the right cloud tools can help us break down the barriers we currently face and be the more open, effective, and resilient organizations that we need to be.”
The move to Cloud computing is seen as a positive way forward and we acknowledge that cloud computing is constantly changing, and cloud solutions need to be constantly evaluated. This should not be considered a onetime process as many of the issues experienced in today’s cloud computing solution could be resolved in a few months thus the process is ongoing. The main benefit of cloud computing is that the infrastructure and systems are off-premise, and suppliers take care of them and roll out regular software updates, hardware and security updates. This will allow us to forget about technology and focus on key business activities and objectives. It can also help us reduce the time to market newer applications and services.
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