One myth I often hear is it’s too expensive. Yes, it’s true that at first glance cloud subscription could appear expensive when compared to the running cost of your aging on-premises infrastructure. However, with the rise in remote working, increased security concerns and more diverse workloads on-premises infrastructure is no longer efficient enough. To build similar capability on-premises and maintain security, accessibility and scalability would be a much more expensive endeavour involving high upfront capital spend with no guarantee of capability. There would simply not be enough guarantee that the on-premises infrastructure could support loads during its lifetime, not to mention the support and administrative costs of maintaining this hardware.
There has been plenty of development over the years that has made cloud solutions much more than technological jargon and more of an essential part of your IT infrastructure landscape.
Looking at the most recent statistics form the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), over 42% of all businesses in Australia use paid cloud services. For mid-sized companies this cloud utilisation goes up to 70%.
The primary limiting factor for many small to midsized companies is simply a lack of knowledge. Not understanding what cloud options are available to support their business is a severe road block to migrating to the cloud. For larger enterprises the concerns around cyber security and risk of a security breach are enough to restrict the business from migrating major workloads to the cloud.
The ABS don’t break the stats down this far but I would expect the uptake numbers for cloud would be lower for regional centres where the range of internet connectivity options is not as great as it is in metropolitan areas. However, technologies such as OneDrive allow you to take your content offline and resynchronise your changes when you’re back online, avoiding this issue.
Looking at cloud adoption in regional centres from personal experience – particularly the Mackay and Bowen basin region where I’ve spent most of my IT career – there are some specific concerns and misinformation around cloud.
Firstly, there is a common thought it doesn’t work for regional centres. This has been primarily driven by the weaker internet options available in the region and previous attempts to push cloud solutions before the technology was capable.
I recall 5 years ago working with Microsoft as a client and they were heavily pushing the “remote Office” concept. As business was preparing for Gen Y to join the workforce, the technology still needed to catch up with the way the new recruits wanted to work. Smart phones had established the expectation of working anywhere at anytime. Gen Y is a generation characterised by the ideal of flexibility in the workplace – being able to work anyplace, anytime is a driving force for productivity. The underlying message was that putting Gen Y workers in an office would stifle them, limiting your business potential.
Microsoft were looking to build on this social phenomenon to promote their business via products like SharePoint and Lync (later known as Skype) - these would be the future of the workplace. While this has become commonplace in today’s world, previously internet capability outside major centres simply didn’t allow these platforms to work cost effectively or at all in some instances. These capabilities and concepts were impressive to see in the safety of a high bandwidth demo but simply didn’t work in the field.
My first question was: what happens when you have little to no connectivity? Can you still use the cloud?
Answers were varied, however when it came down to it the result was no. You couldn’t.
The key issues we have in regional areas include:
less internet options and less competition = higher prices
coverage – there are still areas today with limited or no mobile data coverage
cost of mobile alternatives – 4G repeating, satellite communications, point to point wireless
We don’t have the luxury of super-fast cheap 5G coverage everywhere we work. 4G has come a long way but still won’t work in a pit on a mine site or inside a shipping container in the middle of nowhere.
So, what has changed in recent times? What makes the cloud more viable in regional areas?
Coverage has improved through 4G rollouts and increased competition from the likes of Optus
NBN has increased bandwidth to businesses – not to the extent of Metro but enough for significant improvement
Cloud platforms have become offline friendly
Focusing on Office 365 and in particular SharePoint
A few years ago, I was involved in a major project getting SharePoint into the field for a mining maintenance operation, cost effectively. We had a great plan and solution but had to work through the limitations of internet connectivity and offline capability. This was before Office 365 so SharePoint had to be hosted on servers and replicated to many hosts. Lots of money was spent on offline servers, replication tools and licencing and though the solution did work it was very expensive and overly complicated, requiring plenty of manpower to monitor and maintain.
Today we have Office 365 and OneDrive, which has matured dramatically in the past few years with improved sync capabilities further enhancing the offline capabilities which enables anyone to choose what content they want to take offline.
There have also been advancements in Microsoft Azure with the ability to replicate cloud storage to local devices behind the scenes. Microsoft has been investing heavily in this area of cloud infrastructure and the technology is still rapidly advancing. StorSimple was purchased and released by MS enabling a true hybrid cloud and they have since gone on to release a range of hybrid storage capability including Azure Stack Hub, Azure Databox and Azure Edge.
In summary, the cloud is ready for regional use. 365 and Azure are ready now and both are improving their offline and remote capacity, and (along with the growth of internet connected services and internet capability) now is the time to make sure you have a cloud strategy and you are making your technology work for you and not spending hours on end working for your technology.