By Carl Meadows, firstname.lastname@example.org
Retailers always prefer clear skies. But from an operational standpoint, more and more are preparing for cloudy days ahead – via cloud computing.
If a retailer is considering the use of a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet for its data rather than using its own physical servers, just how cloud-ready is it?
Retailers should evaluate several elements before making that move. So far, though, most retailers aren’t superhot to employ cloud-based applications. To be sure, retailers often are late adopters of new technology. They operate on such tight profit margins that, generally, any new IT expense gets close scrutiny.
Unless a Walmart or Amazon in size, retailers haven’t considered IT to be a major differentiator for the most part. A Forrester Consulting survey released in November found that while 156 leading U.S. and European retailers surveyed increasingly are mulling a cloud-based e-commerce site, 81% still use a homegrown e-commerce platform or a licensed on-premise system from a software vendor.
Many retailers worry about cloud security, which, while understandable, actually should be of less concern than if operating their own data center. It’s true that the retail industry now stands atop cybercriminals’ list of targets. By one account, retailers comprised 45% of one data-breach investigator’s work in 2012, up 15% from 20111. Much of the rise reflects growth in e-commerce, which is triggering assaults that now surpass point-of-sales attacks.
Still, the physical and infrastructure security of cloud providers generally far exceeds that of most retailers. That’s because cloud providers typically use highly secured facilities with stringent access-control procedures. The security of the application, however, is still largely the responsibility of the retailer and its developers as the Cloud is acting as a hosting platform (except for Software-as-a-Service solutions where application security is the responsibility of the app vendor).
Back to gauging a retailer’s cloud-readiness, here are several questions to ask:
1. What do you want to achieve with the cloud? This is essential simply for the exercise of determining what cloud computing can and can’t help you do. It’s also advantageous to gauge how much it will cost to handle a project in the cloud; usually it will be less expensive because in the cloud, you just pay for the infrastructure you use. Still, look into the probable costs of some projects you want to initiate, especially if it involves dissecting Big Data.
2. What applications are ready – and what aren’t – to move to the cloud? Some applications can’t move because they’re backed by legacy systems. Some servers have performance needs that make them poor candidates for the cloud without redesigning the application, such as those with scale-up vs. scale-out systems. However, some IT investments are due for a hardware refresh, which offers a good inflection point to look at the Cloud.
3. How will the cloud impact your web presence? Generally, maintaining such a presence is one of the easiest things to do in the cloud.
4. Can the cloud