With cloud-based services now being widely used among UK social housing providers alongside or even supplanting traditional on-premise IT services, Housing Technology asked senior executives from Civica, IT Lab, Kykloud and Riverlite for their views on the merits of these two technology models.
Advantages and disadvantages of on-premise IT
Civica’s executive director of outsourcing, Gary Bell, said, “The advantages of on-premise IT services include predictable costs, utilisation of owned resources, in-house skills and resources to manage those (familiar) services and environments, and a known data location/residency. However, the disadvantages include a capex requirement as well as ongoing running and support costs. What’s more, there’s often a lack of flexibility and agility in terms of responding to demands for new or evolving services from business users.”
Mark Summers, head of business development at IT Lab, said, “‘Traditional’ on premise IT services provide guaranteed resources, normally for a fixed capital cost, to provide applications and data across a defined network infrastructure. Many client/server applications that require high data transits or quality of service can be more suited to an on-premise architecture, certainly against public cloud services where data transits can’t usually be controlled. On-premise IT services often also benefit from a defined perimeter, meaning that network and data security can be more easily defined and controlled.
Advantages and disadvantages of cloud services
Summers continued, “It’s is important to clarify the different types of ‘cloud’. Public clouds, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, provide an easily accessible, shared IT infrastructure that can be scaled on demand, and offer many benefits around procurement, systems management, reporting, compliance and support for mobile working. However, public clouds aren’t well suited to applications that require high quality of service to operate successfully.
“On the other hand, private cloud services typically offer all of the scalability, provisioning simplicity, procurement and administration benefits of public cloud, but in a defined environment that can be connected to either via the internet or a private business connection to ensure quality of service and management for sensitive applications.
“Finally, and often the most relevant variant for many organisations, there is hybrid cloud. As the term suggests, this approach is client-centric, changing the focus away from a single ‘platform’ to the delivery of user-facing services from their most appropriate delivery model.”
Paul Oggelsby, managing director of Riverlite, added, “We are certainly seeing a growing number of housing providers commit to cloud-based solutions as they gain a better understanding of the benefits they can offer, greater trust in the solutions available and the high levels of overall security.
“The primary advantages of a cloud based solution are cost of ownership savings, an increase in IT agility, reduced upfront costs, a reduced risk of failure and the ability to scale up or down on demand.”
Kykloud’s chief technology officer, Nick Graham, said, “There really are very few disadvantages when using a reputable cloud-based solution. Gone are the days when your bespoke IT system gave you a edge over your competitors, and instead there is an increasing realisation among housing providers that cloud based SaaS products outperform their on-premise counterparts.”
Civica’s Bell said, “The full operational costs, including staff and security, need to be taken into account when pricing an in-house solution, as well as infrastructure costs, not to mention capital investment if additional investment is required upfront. However, if you consider deploying a solution from scratch and its costs span 3-5 years, the cloud service will deliver cost savings.
“The predictability of costs is also a factor; while cloud services can be a fixed price, they can also be extremely variable, with different commercial models offered by a wide range of suppliers. But it’s also worth noting that new investments to support improved security, licensing cost increases and technology advances are usually absorbed by a cloud provider.”
Oggelsby from Riverlite added, “The best way to compare cloud services versus on-premise IT in terms of cost is to define a cloud solution as a day-to-day operating cost (opex) and on-premise IT being a capital expenditure (capex). While outsourcing your IT to a cloud platform might seem the more expensive option at first glance, with subscription costs and payments for server space that might never be used, the costs associated with managing your on-premise IT can quickly eclipse those of cloud solutions.”
IT Lab’s Summers said, “One of the perceived benefits of on-premise IT is that it provides a defined network infrastructure, so that network and data security can be more easily defined and controlled. Yet it’s a misunderstanding that cloud services aren’t as secure as on-premise IT. Sure, if you lock your server and data in a room that no-one ever accesses, then you might be right, but that is not the world in which we live.
“A properly-provisioned cloud architecture from a reputable provider can provide security protection far in advance of most organisations’ individual reach. Enterprise-grade, highly-available and tiered security, yet easily managed through consolidated administration, is one of the most underestimated benefits of a well-provisioned cloud platform.”
Kykloud’s Graham added, “There was once a time when organisations feared the cloud and were probably quite rightly apprehensive about the security of their data and information. Most cloud providers now offer a far better level of security than any in-house team could ever provide.
“And when it comes to disaster recovery, the cloud wins hands-down. Kykloud provides an eight-hour recovery time objective and a 15-minute recovery point, and we are definitely not alone. This means, in the event of a critical disaster, fire or explosion at our primary datacentre, our secondary site will be up and running within eight hours with a maximum data loss of just 15 minutes.”
Civica’s Bell said, “The cloud is quicker and easier to deploy than on-premise services; cloud resources can be deployed within hours, assuming the customer has the resources available to do so in terms of either in-house expertise or a technology partner who can deploy and manage those resources for them.”
Summers from IT Lab said, “On-premise IT services need to be designed and deployed – usually a lengthy process of resource scoping, headroom planning, procurement, installation into a suitable location with power protection, bench-testing, test deployment and migration, live deployment, the configuration of management tools and once installed, maintained, patched and monitored.
“With a cloud solution, planning, diligence of scoping, integration and accessibility are still key. But the provisioning of new resources, from whole platforms, additional servers or even just new applications or resources to run a large report, can be almost immediate, and then tried, tested, adjusted and even just turned off and then started again on demand, all for low ‘as consumed’ costs.”
Kykloud’s Graham added, “There is just no comparison between on-premise and cloud-based services. Instead of waiting months to develop a very basic and untested on-premise solution, you could opt for a cloud-based product and be set up and ready to go within days.”
User access and mobility
Oggelsby continued, “Users with multiple desktop computers, laptops and an increasing number of tablets and smartphones all having constant access to data can prove very challenging for internal staff to maintain and protect. A private cloud solution saves one file in one place in the cloud (just think of it as a remote server) so it can be easily accessed from any machine or device that has an internet connection.”
Civica’s Bell said, “The cloud is built for remote, secure access by users and hence supports the mobility of users. It is also supported around the clock so it additionally enables flexible working and geographically-dispersed workforces.”
Graham continued, “Cloud-based products are normally metered on usage and it’s quick and easy to add extra capacity. If your needs fluctuate or you take on a big project requiring extra usage, it’s easy to flex up and down. With on-premise IT, by contrast, that’s not quite as easy when you have a solution developed specifically to meet a 50-strong team’s needs but you find that by the time the product is eventually available, your users have increased significantly.”
Riverlite’s Oggelsby said, “The cloud model is designed and architected for scale. It’s relatively easy for cloud providers to scale from one server to hundreds of servers. Customers don’t have to worry about large upfront capital expenditures and at the same time, customers can increase resources for peak demand then scale down quickly if necessary.”
Housing Technology would like to thank Gary Bell (Civica), Mark Summers (IT Lab), Nick Graham (Kykloud) and Paul Oggelsby (Riverlite) for contributing to this article.