You read it everywhere – these days, cloud computing is the future! And it’s true, there are many good reasons to move to a cloud-first technology strategy – faster data recovery, flexibility for remote working, practically limitless scalability and, of course, potential cost-savings, but it’s important to remember that the cloud isn’t an all-purpose, all-powerful ‘fix’.
As more housing providers move to the cloud, how can they be sure they’re getting the most out of their resources? And are their systems built in such a way as to promote cost savings where they’re most needed?
A cloud solution may not necessarily address these challenges unless it has been designed to do so and your cloud solutions provider should be transparent about such expectations, working alongside you to deliver a personalised, optimised solution – and continuing to collaborate afterwards.
If you are considering or have already started a migration to the cloud, it’s important to consider what benefits you want the cloud to deliver and how these are aligned and connected to your business strategy. Remember, the cloud should work for you, not the other way around.
Owning and managing servers
Having a traditional IT infrastructure with on-premise servers might not be the most cost-effective choice for housing providers when you take into account the time and resources involved in buying, maintaining and updating them.
Keeping hardware around not only takes up space but requires constant cooling to maintain a safe temperature. There are also HR costs to consider here, since owning servers means employing somebody who knows how to look after them.
Using a public cloud removes the burden of constant equipment upkeep, offering better affordability and elastic resources that can be scaled up or down depending on your data-processing demands. Furthermore, there are opportunities for housing providers to share public cloud server space, necessitating less equipment, lower cooling needs and offering significant cost savings. Of course, this also means more efficient and powerful servers come within reach for organisations usually restrained by budget.
A hybrid cloud setup offers further flexibility, potentially including multiple cloud providers and making your infrastructure both hybrid and multi-cloud. Using one or more public clouds in addition to your existing on-premise servers can simplify the management of your applications and help you get much more from your cloud service.
It’s also worth noting the ESG benefits of cloud because many big datacentres (e.g. Google, Microsoft and AWS) are carbon neutral and incredibly energy efficient; compare this to a typical on-premise server which sits idle during non-working hours while racking up energy usage and costs.
Staying up-to-date is more affordable
Like most organisations, housing providers want to increase their use of digital services and introduce new software and features to streamline processes and improve customer service.
Customer communication, for example, can be made much more efficient by using a cloud-based omni-channel setup. It’s likely that many tenants, particularly younger ones, will prefer WhatsApp, social media and/or text messaging to stay in touch and a cloud-based system means all communications can be controlled via a single application from any location or device.
Of course, more digitisation usually means buying more software and installing updates more often – a practice that can get rather cumbersome and expensive using traditional onsite infrastructures, especially if you’re waiting for providers to set up, upgrade and configure new systems.
By contrast, most public cloud providers, such as Azure and AWS, provide pay-as-you go software features (think of it as a subscription service for your business-critical IT needs) and are built to support the increasing velocity of software and security updates using timed deployment slots with none-to-minimal disruption.
The elasticity of cloud services means they can be increased/decreased alongside the size of your team, so any peaks or dips in demand become less challenging and software can be added or removed to suit. For organisations requiring responsiveness and dealing with budget restrictions, the flexibility of the cloud is a huge advantage.
Remote work and process balance
Taking advantage of the public cloud to streamline remote-working practices reduces the need for multiple offices and their consequent costs.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember the latent costs associated with clunky and outdated legacy applications and the resulting inefficient or sprawling processes which waste both time and resources. Connecting to onsite servers using unreliable VPN technology or running low-performance virtual desktops for remote working isn’t efficient and is likely to reduce productivity.
Cloud computing streamlines these issues through scalable software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) technologies. Hosting and centralising your data and virtual machines in the cloud means you get all the additional processing power without the need to invest in new desktops or servers.
In fact, because public cloud hardware runs at much higher work-rates than onsite servers, it’s likely to have a much shorter lifecycle, resulting in the hardware being refreshed more frequently. In other words, the latest kit is always available to public cloud users and tends to be much more powerful and efficient than would be otherwise be affordable.
Housing providers store, access and share a lot of sensitive personal data, so it’s vital that systems meet the highest security and compliance standards and that they have robust DR. Not only can data breaches be very expensive, but onsite DR usually means a lot of downtime.
DR in the cloud is frequently associated with lower costs since cloud-based recovery plans are offered by both public and private cloud providers as a managed service, removing the burden of an upfront financial investment and providing extreme flexibility when it comes to automated backup and restore processes.
Your managed service provider should work with you to create cloud-based back-up plans, offering different packages to suit your budget, while preserving business continuity.
As a final note, it’s worth remembering that compliance is built right into a cloud solution such as Microsoft Azure, which can help organisations meet most, if not all, of their regulatory requirements when it comes to data protection and cyber security; this can lift a huge burden from housing providers worried about meeting their regulatory demands.
Rich Hutchings is the chief technology officer at Littlefish.