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Cloud-based storage: Determining which of your customers’ applications should move to the cloud

While nonstrategic applications are the most likely candidates for a customer’s first steps into cloud-based storage, a closer look at a specific environment might yield a different choice.

As we’ve discussed in other articles, the cloud isn’t a product itself, but rather a delivery mechanism for a number of products and services. So when making the decision of whether to use cloud-based storage, IT organizations need to evaluate specific applications they could move to the cloud and do a benefit analysis around how much could they save, etc. There’s really no way to separate the question of which data and applications would be moved to the cloud from the decision of whether to use the cloud at all. Evaluating the cloud really means evaluating those specific applications and services themselves.

The challenge for some companies may be figuring out where to start. In a recent tip on (“Cloud initiatives: Prioritizing what goes in the cloud”), Phil Goodwin makes a strong case that companies should look first at nonstrategic applications, the ones that don’t involve a proprietary process that’s fundamental to the business and its competitiveness. This makes sense from a risk perspective but also because proprietary processes are probably handled by custom applications, and moving them to the cloud or moving their data to the cloud may be especially complex. Nonstrategic applications, like data protection and email, are already available from number of cloud service providers, making them easier to implement.

Participation in the cloud will probably take a number of forms; one could be using a cloud-based storage as a remote target for backups; another could be moving an entire application to the cloud. One example cited in the tip mentioned above is laptop backup. This is often done using an application different from the one used for regular backup, so moving laptop backup to the cloud doesn’t require digging into the primary backup system and pulling laptop users and their data out. The decision to move to the cloud just depends on what nonstrategic applications the customer has and what parts of those current solutions are inadequate or have the potential to provide some savings.

While nobody looks for ways to reduce their own business with customers, as a solution provider, your long-term goal is to find the best solutions for your clients. If that means moving an application, like email, to the cloud, you should be the one to help them make that determination. Then you can help them find a cost-effective solution and implement it, even if they have to remove the Exchange server and related storage assets they bought from you. After all, if it is the best solution, it’s much better for you to be the one replacing it. As the expression goes, “It’s better to eat your own young than to let someone else do it.” It’s also essential that you be there when that decision is made, since replacing existing infrastructure is one of the easiest ways for a new VAR to get into your account.

What to put into the cloud is a big part of the “cloud talk” that I’ve discussed in previous articles. The devil is in the details, and deciding whether cloud-based storage makes sense requires looking at specific candidate applications and data sets first. As it turns out, you may end up helping a customer see that moving its email to the cloud is not the best thing to do. You may also help the customer see that moving a strategic application to the cloud is not the best place to start a cloud implementation. And, since the cloud talk can help prepare your customer for similar discussions with management, this “what to put into the cloud” topic is important to cover.

In the final analysis, the cloud will become another implementation option, one customers will expect their VARs to present along with traditional infrastructure solutions, as appropriate. As their trusted storage advisor, you will certainly want a seat in that meeting, where your customer explains its requirements. At that point you can recommend the cloud when it makes sense.

Eric Slack is a senior analyst with Storage Switzerland.

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