More and more critical business applications are being moved to the cloud as organisations look to take advantage of the numerous advantages the cloud model can offer. From lowering capex to improving operational efficiency, cloud should be a way of maximising profitability at a time when every penny counts.

However, before opting for cloud hosting, it is vital that businesses remember that while there are offerings on the market that provide true cloud computing benefits, there are also many fake clouds. The challenge therefore is for organisations to see past the hype and ensure they are able to reap the benefits that cloud promises.

Expectations Versus Cost

As organisations rely more and more on IT for day-to-day operations, their expectations of IT continue to increase. This puts extra pressure on the underlying infrastructure that supports business critical applications. Despite this, workers still expect a smooth experience and for these applications to be available 24/7.

Cloud computing is providing businesses with a new and more cost effective way to meet these expectations. Cloud servers are different from either traditional dedicated servers or virtual private servers hosting in that they provide a pay-as-you-go, scalable, on-demand server infrastructure. They offer entirely new capabilities to handle peaks in demand or to adapt to more gradual changes to the IT infrastructure. Yet cloud servers can still be managed like traditional dedicated servers and offer the same control over configuration.

This kind of flexibility, both in capacity and cost, removes uncomfortable infrastructure investment decisions. Until now, decisions on how much server capacity is needed were based on expected traffic levels. Often businesses had to buy into multi-year hosting contracts.

This forms a catch-22 situation: in the early days of an application, for example the shopping cart on your website, you might not expect to use huge amounts of capacity. Yet in 12 months you might be expecting significant increases. Do you bite the bullet and pay for server capacity you might need in the future, or take the gamble that your need won’t outstrip your capacity? Paying for something you aren’t going to use immediately is difficult to justify in today’s economy.

It’s not just in planning for future growth that cloud helps. A key element of a successful application is the ability to perform through periods of increased use. For example, applications used at busy times experience surges that might suddenly trail off afterwards, such as when they are used for major events like the Olympics or more commonly before the end of financial quarters.

To deal with these scenarios, far too often organisations have had to either purchase server capacity that sits unused for most of the year or accept that at peak periods the performance of their site will frustrate customers. Neither has been a satisfactory solution.

With true cloud servers these problems disappear as your infrastructure scales as use increases. You dial server capacity up and down as you need it. You aren’t tied into fixed contracts anymore; instead you have the flexibility to provision and pay for the infrastructure you need, when you need it.

Real Cloud Or Smokescreen?

There are many hosting providers who claim to deliver such cloud offerings and who yet in fact do not offer truly scalable, resilient cloud hosting.

Fake cloud hosting offers none of the benefits of true cloud servers. It is often, quite literally, traditional hosting with the word ‘cloud’ placed in front of it. As such these hosting services are often inflexible, requiring the hosting provider to manually adjust capacity on your behalf, and set at a fixed rate, leaving the CIO with the age old dilemma of either paying for what they don’t use or risking their application crashing due to lack of capacity.

Before signing up to cloud hosting and beginning to move applications across, organisations need to carefully analyse the cloud credentials of a provider. The key is to not only look at the offering they are promising but also to ask questions – such as around the process involved in scaling server capacity up or down.

Any mention of calling the hosting provider or waiting 24 hours at this point means that the offering is not actually cloud. In this instance, the organisation should simply walk away rather than be sucked into a fake cloud offering. In short, businesses must be mindful of fake clouds, as they won’t deliver on expectations, and the potential benefits of cloud will never be felt.

Ultimately, cloud servers should allow organisations to host their applications simply, cheaply and without restrictions. Done well, cloud hosting can be a huge benefit to businesses, but they need to be certain that what they are signing up to is a true cloud offering to ensure the flexibility and cost benefits are realised.