Microsoft: Cloud Lets You Fight Above Your Weight Class

Cloud computing has moved beyond first-mover advantage for midsize and enterprise companies and is quickly becoming a standard conversation with customers, according to Tim O'Brien, senior director of platform strategy at Microsoft. Anybody standing still will quickly be left behind, he said.

"I couldn't remember a single customer conversation in the last year where this topic was not at or near the top of the agenda," O'Brien told an audience of CIOs at Everything Channel's Midsize Enterprise Summit West conference in San Antonio on Tuesday.

Still, the list of concerns regarding cloud-based solutions is long, including security, availability, performance, interoperability, integration and limits to the ability to customize, according to O'Brien. But in truth, cloud-based solutions can offer even greater protection for some threats, he said.

"Security in the cloud comes up with every customer I talk to. The underlying presumption is that security in the IT data center today is at least good enough if not best in class. But what about employees walking out the door with documents on a thumb drive? Or people e-mailing attachments to their Gmail account so they can work at home. These are bad behaviors that breach security and it makes the argument that cloud solves the problem of people doing what they're doing now because they don't have access to corporate documents [in the cloud.]"

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Also, compiling a list of benefits to cloud-based solutions can easily match the list of concerns, O'Brien said. He cited the ability to pay for what you use, easy deployment, standard payments, standard systems, lower IT staffing costs and getting the latest functionality as reasons why businesses should deploy cloud-based solutions.

"It's the tension between these two [concerns and benefits] that puts the business at a crossroads of what to do. The obvious question is what do you do next," O'Brien said.

One answer is to partition the portfolio of applications used by a business today to move some applications initially to the cloud where benefits can be more quickly realized.

A Microsoft study found that about 30 percent of midsize companies and 38 percent of large enterprises now use cloud-based solutions for Web conferencing, while 19 percent and 30 percent, respectively, get CRM solutions delivered via the cloud, said O'Brien.

Other applications and their percentage of cloud-based deployments by midmarket companies include: e-mail (16 percent), collaboration (14 percent), content management (13 percent), intranet/portal (11 percent), remote access (11 percent), business continuity (11 percent), business intelligence (11 percent) and supply chain management (10 percent).

Next: Fight Above Your Weight Class

Enterprises are utilizing cloud-based applications even more than their midmarket brethren, according to Microsoft. About 23 percent use cloud-based e-mail, 21 percent use collaboration, 17 percent use content management, 15 percent use intranet/portal, 17 percent use remote access, 18 percent use business continuity, 12 percent use business intelligence and 21 percent use supply chain management.

Businesses should also identify workloads in their data center that drive bad economics, workloads that might be better served leveraging the cloud, O'Brien said.

For example, some companies might see an "Oprah effect" on their business. When Oprah Winfrey mentions a company or product on her show, often that company's Web site crashes due to a huge spike of visitors or buyers, O'Brien said.

"That's a classic case for cloud computing. And this is not just a start-up thing. Any outbound customer-facing workload could be susceptible to this," O'Brien said. He also cited how news sites saw unprecedented traffic after Sept. 11.

"Another example is companies that crunch massive numbers. You may need 5,000 virtual machines for three hours and then turn them off for a week. We see that in financial services industries and scientific communities that might need to visualize a strand of DNA," O'Brien said. Perhaps the most important move that end users can do is to not stand still regarding cloud, O'Brien said.

"The first mover train left the station a long time ago. Make your move. Do something," he said. "One of the problems with cloud for SMBs and to some degree midmarket, is your have to fight above your weight class in IT sophistication. You have resources constrained and you think how can you get the most out of your IT budget. Cloud celebrates the [ability] to fight above your weight class."