I have a confession to make. I’ve parked cloud as fancy hosting and not really delved into the detail.

But suddenly I was put on the spot at an analyst briefing and realised I had to get my act together and get up to speed. So recently I’ve taken a deep dive and am now convinced that this is as fundamental an inflexion point as the move to the PC and the advent of client-server architectures. 

So if like me, you’ve bluffed so far and now feel embarrassed to ask some of the basics, here are the 10 things, I think you really need to know.

Even if you think you have a fairly good handle on what cloud services are, it's a good bet that some of your line-of-business colleagues don't and this article may be a useful and straightforward guide to post to them.

If you’ve got any other questions, please feel free to ask them by adding a comment.

1 What is a a good definition of cloud computing?
Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services that can be rapidly provided and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Fundamental characteristics are

 - On-demand self-service
 - Accessed via internet
 - Always available
 - Rapid elasticity 
 - Paid by use
 - Measured service
2 What will the impact be on my IT organisation?
The most obvious reason is cost-effectiveness: cloud cuts the need for capital intensive IT as it enables technology to be bought as a service, where you only pay for what you use. 

But when you begin to look closer the most interesting factor is agility.

In IT we’ve been so ingrained into this serial, process-centric culture based on governance, purchasing and supply chain. 

But why do we have to do it that way? Start thinking more in terms of a shared pool of infrastructure instead of I-own-this-and-you-own-that.

In business everything has a cycle. There isn’t a business process that runs 200 percent every single minute every single day. 

Understanding the cycle of business and being able to adapt to it is the beauty of the transformational model of cloud computing.

3 How will it change the way my company does business?
Cloud computing offers greater agility for a company to react to competitor or customer activities.

It lets you handle peaks and troughs simply by using as much capacity as you need, making it a much more agile operating model than permanently over-provisioning just to meet peaks.

4 Which business services are right for the cloud and what will happen to all the existing IT?
You need to think in terms of moving workloads — processes and applications — rather than servers or data.

There’s been a big wave of cloud email adoption recently using tools like Google Mail and Office 365. 

Email is often a business-critical IT application for many organisations. Mail and collaboration are both well defined solutions supporting well defined business processes, making them ideal for the cloud.

If you are looking at putting workload into the cloud, high throughput, mission critical systems require more thought and consideration before moving to the cloud. 

In addition some applications, particularly older ones maybe too costly to convert to be suitable to run in the cloud, to make it worthwhile.

5 What investment will I need to make?
If you choose to build your own private cloud, the cost can run into millions of pounds, but increasingly there are on-premise private cloud services available from third party providers with no capex upfront.

Look for providers that charge customers a minimum monthly fee for a pre-agreed amount of use, then extra when they use more.

The charges are all published on a standard price list (or ratecard) and there is no capital expenditure for the customer as the cost of the equipment is spread across the contract term.

6 How do I manage the variable costs of cloud against my fixed monthly budgets?
Moving to the cloud generally reduces costs overall. But the nature of a utility service is that costs vary according to consumption, so peak service levels will cost more than off-peak.

It's possible to cap usage, and important to look for a provider who offers this, so that you always predict what the maximum cost will be.

7 How do I compare one service provider with another? 
A rate card tells you the cost of cloud services. You can look up elements like usage, service levels and additional options to work out the cost.

Look out for charges for moving data in and out of the cloud — this can add considerably to the cost of operation depending on your use of the cloud.

In theory this enables you to compare providers' pricing. But to date there's no standardised unit of measurement for usage.

Many rate cards are based on virtual machines, but these can be large or small, which can cause confusion.
Virtual memory usage is an alternative common denominator.

It's a constant that features in most applications and usage profiles, so is easier to understand and compare.

8 What are the risks?
Data security is one of the biggest perceived risks of moving to the cloud. You need to choose a cloud provider whose attitude and track record on security inspire your confidence.

There are four levels of security to take into account

 - The physical security of the data centre facility
 - Logical security. Guaranteed segregation of different customers' data and applications at the logical level
 - Access control. Authorisation and identity controls, and audit logs that show who's accessed what and when
 - Data integrity. Techniques like scanning data for viruses, efficient backup and restore processes, and audit trails that track changes to data
 - Check who is responsible – some public cloud services require the using organisation to manage data integrity for example.

9 How do I ensure control of the service across the business?
By using a secure, measured private cloud environment where you can control who is putting workloads on it.  A public cloud service would mean that the level of control and visibility of activities within a business are lower.

10 What happens to my data?
Some organisations want to keep their most sensitive data on their own site, using an on-premises private cloud.

The same is true of organisations with applications that send huge amounts of data back and forth, and that want to ensure the fastest route for data transfer.

It is important to look for a service provider who can guarantee where your data is stored.  Some of the well known providers are still unable to make a promise as to where your data is located.

And lastly ensure you are clear whether you or the provider are responsible for backing up your data in case of a problem.

So there it is — Cloud 101. I hope you’ve found it useful.

Liz Benison is vice president and COO for the UK and Ireland region of CSC

Pic: kevindooleycc2.0