IT in the clouds

Hosted desktops help ease pressure on the bottom line while introducing improvements including physical and online security. By Joseph Blass

With the oil and gas sector under continued price pressure, steps are still being taken to reduce costs. Is anything left to cut without compromising performance? And can a company operate with a smaller headcount while having the best IT at its disposal at no capital cost?

One area where overheads can be reduced significantly, service levels and online security are improved, and productivity increased, is in outsourcing IT to the cloud. A cost comparison between in-house and cloud computing demonstrates the value of the move.

Companies whose operations are widely dispersed, regionally or globally, are particularly suited to migrating their IT to the cloud. SMEs especially benefit through sharing the costs of the same enterprise-grade software, high end hardware and security that their larger counterparts have been enjoying for years.

How the cloud works for SMEs
With the hosted desktop approach to cloud computing, staff, wherever they are located, see the same desktop screen they are familiar with, regardless of the access device they are using. All computing is carried out on servers in a secure remote data centre. At the high end of hosted desktop offerings the data centre is supported by a second, which takes over in the event of business continuity being required.

Access devices include an organisation’s existing laptops, desktop computers, tablets and smartphones or, optionally, thin clients.

Data backups, built-in resilience and data restoration strategies help keep downtime to a minimum, as good if not better than can be achieved in-house because of the array of technology, processes and procedures utilised by the hosted desktop provider.

If the provider is ISO 27001 accredited, its customers can rest assured that every element of the operation of each data centre conforms to the global gold standard in information security management. ISO 27001 also applies to every aspect of business continuity planning and execution.

What does all this mean for the energy sector?
What does it impact?
IT hardware inventory and costs. Servers, desktops and laptops typically need replacing every few years. Your company might be thinking about making them last for as long as possible. It’s one option to consider but there is a capital, support and potential performance cost to that. In their place you could have thin clients accessing all library files and applications. Thin clients are essentially ‘plug and play’ keyboards with a screen costing as little as £200 each.

Computer networks. Traditional networks linking locations together can be made redundant by the cloud. In the age of hosted desktops – including world class IT infrastructures in the data centres – further or new investment in networks can safely be shelved. That’s especially key in a downturn.

Other savings. Outsourcing IT to the cloud can result in a reduced headcount in the IT department, with remaining staff supporting those employees using hosted desktops. Savings from reduced headcounts – and hardware that is no longer required can slice some 30 per cent off the IT budget. Improved productivity leads to further savings.

Flexibility – with scalability – comes into the frame because hosted desktops enable staff to work, on that same familiar ‘desktop’, wherever they are. The customer only pays per employee using a hosted desktop, allowing it to take full advantage of hosted desktops’ inherent scalability up or down.

Agility. Flexibility enables improved business agility. Offices anywhere can be closed or mothballed, which is a great help if the headcount in any department needs reducing and freelancers employed more commonly to fill gaps. Freelancers or employees don’t have to come to an office to work. A more agile business can respond more quickly to changing market conditions.

Security. Energy companies are, rightly, concerned about protecting their data and information. It’s perhaps the one subject that makes them pause when considering moving to the cloud. It shouldn’t.

Security is paramount and, crucially, this is where the cloud also wins for the SME because of the ‘best in class’ security provided. First, let’s look at physical security. The level of physical security a cloud services vendor provides is often to a much higher standard than an SME can afford or wants to spend. Distributed, remotely located data centres – complete with power backup – are housed within highly secure buildings employing high grade security: fire and forced entry alarms, access control and security personnel.

Online security is likewise immeasurably improved in many instances. At last, with the cloud, SMEs can benefit from the same powerful enterprise-grade online security as the biggest companies, because, as with other aspects of security, all costs are shared.

Online security tools provides robust firewalls, web filtering, and management of access devices and optional encryption of sent emails. Other tools can be used for monitoring, controlling and enforcing acceptable use policies, blocking access to inappropriate websites and other sites the client wants to exclude, and reducing web misuse by staff. Dual factor authentication, or 2FA, is an important security consideration because, like banks, it enforces the identification of individuals by a combination of user name, password and information known only to them.

Triggers for outsourcing to the cloud
A serious downturn can be the prime trigger for taking a different approach to IT. There are others, some of them common to a crisis: a key member of the IT staff is leaving; IT equipment needs upgrading or replacing; an office move or closure is afoot; more extensive flexible working is under consideration; online and physical security needs to be improved; overheads are too high.

As the industry struggles under challenging margins, hosted desktops should be viewed as an enabler of consolidation, doing things differently and better, and rebuilding. Another plus is that by owning all the risk and much of the financial burden of running the IT, hosted desktop providers put their customers in a stronger position from which to focus on their core business.

Joseph Blass is CEO of WorkPlaceLive. With roots going back to 1996, WorkPlaceLive was founded in 2006 as a provider of cloud computing services. One of the first UK providers of hosted desktop services, its hosted desktops allow customers and their employees the freedom to work from anywhere in the world, from any device, as easily as they would in their office.

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