This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

Yesterday I took some time out of my Enterprise Connect schedule and headed to New York to participate in a cloud event held by Navisite, a leading provider of cloud services. The theme of the event was “Cloud: Beyond ROI,” which I thought was a good topic of conversation for anyone considering the cloud.

Much of what I often hear around the value of cloud is cost-related – pay by glass, it’s cheaper than traditional computing, moving CapEx dollar to OpEx dollars, meaning the value of the cloud is that it’s a cheaper version of what it is replacing. Nothing fundamentally changes, but costs go down.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the value of saving money. Lowering the cost of IT is a top initiative for almost all CIOs. However, I really don’t believe anyone in IT would want to go through any kind of change in direction solely for the purpose of saving money. First, there’s a certain upfront cost involved in shifting to the cloud. Retraining, rewriting applications, upgrading the network, etc., chews up some of the cost savings. Also, there are disruptions to the user, which, again, might eat into the cost savings. So the value has to be more than cost.

So, if I’m saying not to define the value of cloud by the amount of money your company can save, how should you think about cloud value? In my opinion, you need to find things that cloud enables your company to do that you couldn’t do, or is difficult to do without the cloud. Here are some examples:

1. Enterprise Mobility

Cloud is optimized for mobile or remote working. The traditional client server computing model is based on a model where corporate servers reside in a data center and then end points attached to the corporate network access those applications. This was great for the prior model of computing. However, things have changed. More and more employees are working from home, the road, at their kids’ baseball games, airports, hotels or wherever they have some downtime. The traditional computing model means getting on a network, invoking a VPN, perhaps logging into a certain network segment and then running the application. Conversely, a cloud application is accessible without having to go through all of that hassle. Additionally, cloud apps typically run through a browser, meaning it’s easier to scale to a wide variety of end points. So, this post-PC, multi-OS, cross-platform, mobile world we are moving into is best served from the cloud, not traditional applications.

2. Disaster Recovery

As a person who was previously involved with a company’s disaster recovery plans, I know first-hand how difficult building a workable DR plan can be. You need redundant servers, hot backups, mirrored storage, realistic recovery point objectives and a bunch of other stuff, and you need to test, test, test and test some more because it better work when you need it. With cloud, the cloud provider is the one that worries about the resiliency of the cloud service. Sure, you need to architect your network to be fully redundant, but that’s a much easier task than having to create redundant data center assets.

3. It’s an easier, faster deployment model

When considering the cloud, think about the current process of doing whatever you’re considering ‘clouding’ and the associated workloads. At the event, I used a consumer analogy. Why do people prefer to download movies from iTunes or Netflix instead of buying a DVD? You can probably get the DVD at the same or lower price as the download at a place like Wal-Mart. Well, the workload associated with downloading the movie is simple. Click and you’re done. To buy the DVD, you need to get in your car, go to the store, find the movie, wait in line, drive home and then watch it. It’s a more complicated workload. The same can be said with IT resources. Instead of having to deploy servers, manage them, patch the OS, patch the application, back up the app, back up the data and then make sure the users are running the right version, you simply turn it on and let the cloud provider worry about all that other stuff. Cloud is simpler than having to do it the traditional way.

Obviously, these aren’t the only reasons to move to the cloud, but I do think they are three of the key reasons cloud is a better computing model for today’s workforce and IT environment than legacy computing. IT evaluators considering it should try and look beyond the cost element and think about how things would change in an environment where cloud was the preferred deployment model.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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