COVID-19’s Cloud Computing Wake-Up Call

For associations that didn’t already manage their data resources on the cloud, the sudden move to take everyone remote highlights how the old server room paradigm doesn’t make much sense anymore.

As executives throughout the corporate and noncorporate worlds were faced with tough questions about how to handle COVID-19, one has to wonder where tech infrastructure fit into the equation during those conversations.

Those with more localized or in-house infrastructure might have found themselves having to come up with challenging protocols regarding how to keep the server rack online, leading to rushed actions to help serve a suddenly remote workforce that the data center might not have even been designed for. But those who had moved their data to the cloud years ago might have found their decision—potentially a source of internal debate before it was implemented—validated in a big way.

After years of back-and-forth over the cloud’s security, its tendencies toward downtime, its potential for ballooning costs, questions of process, and its return on investment, the fact is that a huge advantage for cloud computing just emerged: its flexibility in a time of disaster.

In a complex time when a whole lot of other measures are up for debate, the fact that a managed cloud service can adapt and scale to user needs is a point of respite.

(For those that do have a data center to manage internally, the Uptime Institute has a useful guide explaining how to manage your servers in a strange time, including recommendations for keeping things clean and handling onsite staff. The guide recommends limiting onsite server access to “essential maintenance visits.”)

While the world probably is going through a once-in-a-century aberration, it nonetheless shows that it no longer makes sense for many organizations—especially those that don’t have particularly specialized data management needs—to ignore the cloud as a basis for their infrastructure.

In the near term, localized data management comes with some significant issues. For example, if the server is onsite, there may be the occasional need for someone to travel to the office to check in, creating potential personal safety issues. There’s also the fact that some types of work may have setups designed for local access—video production and graphic design work, which often rely on large creative resources, come to mind—that now need to be rethought for a remote staff.

In many ways, it’s significantly easier to reshape a cloud network around your needs than in the case of a local server. For example, if a person lives far from the server resource, it can create significant, hard-to-work-around slowdowns that can be difficult to mitigate. But cloud platforms, which can take advantage of economies of scale to help distribute resources using local servers, can help minimize such pain.

It’s Not All Roses, Though

While cloud computing has definitely shown its weight as an essential piece of digital infrastructure during a difficult time, some well-known platforms are buckling under the added pressure, most notably Microsoft’s Azure.

The company last month faced major stresses and had to take steps to limit usage on some of its increasingly popular platforms such as Teams just to keep up. (An outage in late March also exposed a gap in the company’s coverage, as a key employee was sleeping in the U.S. as the outage was taking place in Europe.)

The situation, beyond highlighting the massive amount of internet use in the modern day, speaks to a problem that will be important to understand in the weeks and months ahead: During this timeframe, maintenance is going to be a challenge no matter who’s in charge of the data infrastructure.

Cloud computing isn’t going to be a do-everything solution, regardless of how much data it can manage for your organization. But what it can offer (that your association may not be able to) is the ability to manage important data and correct quickly. While your organization may have dedicated staff to throw at an old server facing downtime, a company that manages cloud servers all day long has many more, and they can think about this at a higher level than your team possibly can.

Look, the cloud will raise issues of safety, of management, and of budget—just like I said earlier. But this is a world that needs flexibility in resources and scaling. And that’s something a cloud platform can offer in spades.

The server room approach once made a lot more sense for associations, don’t get me wrong. But at a time when the world makes less sense than ever, it’s becoming clear that old paradigms must adapt.

(PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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