A Guide to Publishing in the Cloud: Ten Considerations


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Article ImageIf you are involved with any type of enterprise software, you've probably considered some sort of cloud-based deployment model. Publishing is no different, and in Real Story Group's numerous advisory engagements with customers, discussions about the cloud are becoming increasingly common.

Whenever you evaluate digital publishing tools (such as web content management tools), you should consider a broad set of evaluation criteria based on your specific scenarios and functional requirements-regardless of whether the technology gets hosted on-premise or in the cloud. As you consider the cloud model, here's a checklist of 10 key concepts to understand.

1. Figure out what the "cloud" means to you.

Definitions of the cloud vary, and vendors use this to suit their offerings. At the very outset, you'll want to distinguish between infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and SaaS variations of the cloud. Publishing tools in the cloud are typically SaaS-based offerings for the key services (workflows, deployment, and delivery, etc.), along with cloud-based storage. Traditional content management vendors will also say they "do cloud," but just remember that this can mean a variety of different things, including the following:

  • Support for simple virtualization in your environment
  • Help with managed hosting on their infrastructure or on public cloud infrastructure such as Amazon
  • Providing a multitenant, SaaS solution from the ground up

2. Understand possible deployment models and cost implications.

In the context of the publishing tools' marketplace, there are different variations of how the cloud is deployed. It could be a public cloud, private cloud, community cloud, or a combination of one or more of these (hybrid cloud). For example, you may want to keep a highly confidential set of published documents on your private cloud, and keep more web documents on the public cloud. There are cost implications here, revolving around bandwidth, storage, and CPU usage. The cloud may prove more convenient, but it is not always cheaper.

3. Security considerations remain important.

You need to take into account multiple considerations before deciding if a particular cloud service is suitable for storing and managing confidential information. Remember that your data is going to leave your premises and be held elsewhere by others; however, it is still your data, and ultimately, you will be held responsible for it.

Beyond encryption and access rules, you also need to assess the security of the supplier's data center and network. Look at security holistically-include authentication, authorization, encryption, data center security, and physical security. In many cases, you will find the security regime an improvement over your existing environment, but this doesn't mean you should take it for granted.

4. Don't underestimate administration and management overhead.

At a high level, administration refers to configuration and maintenance-related tasks such as creating and managing workflows, configuring publishing destinations, user and group management, device management, reporting, and so forth. Never forget that you'll need to administer your system on an ongoing basis, even if it runs in the cloud.

5. Integration and extensibility can be crucial differentiators.

At an enterprise level, ease of integration with major business applications can become very important. For publishing tools, this can include integration with common productivity applications such as Microsoft's Outlook, as well as integration with existing enterprise systems such as legacy enterprise content management (ECM) products or other cloud-based applications (such as those from Salesforce.com).

In an on-premise installation, you can typically custom code the required integrations, but such customization or extension sometimes goes against the intention of cloud suppliers that exist to provide a common, generic service. Define your integration requirements up front.

6. Reporting and compliance are important too.

As an administrator, you need the ability to monitor different quotas, such as storage, bandwidth, and users. You should also be able to monitor workspaces, files, folders, sharing, and so forth. Look at the types of metrics available and how easy it is to create your own reports.

7. Investigate scalability and reliability.

Two of the potential benefits of running cloud services stem from elasticity and redundancy. That is, you expand your capacity quickly (for example, to deal with spikes in usage), and you can spread your platform horizontally to reduce the chances of downtime or latency.

Nevertheless, the fact that the services run in the cloud does not ensure that they are infinitely scalable or reliable. We have seen many examples (even among the bigger players) in which services have failed outright. Ask specific questions about how the vendor handles failovers and how they scale. Try to simulate real-life scenarios by creating your specific publishing workflows that move content from one destination to another.

8. Involve both IT and business groups.

Many cloud-based applications, especially the SaaS-based ones, allow you to provision an account yourself and get started. This usually gives the impression that IT involvement is not required, and then business groups make a decision-without involving them.

This approach may work initially, but over time, the complexity increases. As this technical dimension grows, ensure that your IT team always participates in system selection and deployment-even for SaaS/cloud-based technologies. By the same token, IT teams should not undertake this decision in a vacuum or based solely on systems and administrative capabilities.

9. Take time to understand SLAs and content ownership issues.

Your cloud relationship will depend on a very thorough review and negotiation of a service-level agreement (SLA), whereby your cloud supplier proves it can meet your requirements. With any cloud provider, you will likely need to request extra information above and beyond the standard SLA.

You need to fully acknowledge that the onus of responsibility for your data is on you and not on the cloud service provider. Specific concerns-such as data ownership, continuity, security, and compliance-are your problem. You must ensure that before you employ these services, you have the capacity to back up your data to a separate location. This way, you can retain access to your data-regardless of a potential disruption of service.

10. Mind regulatory compliance.

Cloud suppliers specialize in retaining data for long periods, but not in disposing that data on demand. For some cloud vendors, disposal/destruction means little more than terminating client access to the data-but leaving the data in place until it is eventually overwritten. This approach to disposition is an anathema to records managers and is also a minefield for legal departments. Closely interrogate how this works with prospective vendors, and don't rule out the need to apply your own rules, including transferring content to local servers for ultimate disposition. Finally, you need to account for regulatory concerns-for example, around privacy-that vary from region to region and impact where and how content can be stored and accessed.

CONCLUSION

Much of the industry discussion about the cloud tends to gravitate to two extremes: that it's a panacea for manifold business and IT challenges or that it's a security and regulatory nightmare. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. Prudent publishers will look to exploit cloud-based models, but go in with eyes wide open.


SaaS-Based Web Publishing

Acquia: Acquia Cloud (Based on Drupal)

OmniUpdate: OU Campus

Upland Software: Clickability

Salesforce.com: Site.com

CrownPeak Technology: CrownPeak

WordPress: Wordpress.com

SaaS-Based Document Management/Publishing

Alfresco: Alfresco in the cloud

SpringCM: SpringCM

Box: Box

Microsoft: Office 365

For more information, visit realstorygroup.com/Reports/CMS. Most vendors mentioned at that site provide at least some cloud services.


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One of the more recent movements in the technology sector--which has emerged as a bona fide standard practice in numerous industries--is cloud-based computing. Without even thinking about it, in fact, many of the most routine activities that businesses have come to rely on-think Gmail or Salesforce.com-are built on cloud-based principles, where information, storage, and processing are housed and managed in off-site data centers as opposed to a company's own local servers or hard drives. For publishers contemplating moving aspects of their business practice to the cloud, there is plenty of experience and expertise to rely on during the course of the decision-making process; indeed, they may already be deeper into the cloud than they realize.