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How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edge

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Therefore, the correlated benefits of recaptured costs, enhanced security and increased agility offered by cloud technology do in fact level the playing field and give a competitive advantage to ...

Therefore, the correlated benefits of recaptured costs, enhanced security and increased agility offered by cloud technology do in fact level the playing field and give a competitive advantage to mid-markets players.

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How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edge How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edge Document Transcript

  • Leveling the Playing FieldHow Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive EdgeCo-Authored By: Melissa Andrews, Robert Costello, Javier Dela Cruz, Susan Foley and David SperryMarch 26, 2013
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive EdgeIntroductionIn 2001 the industry leader in customer relationship management (CRM) software was SiebelSystems generating more than $1 billion in revenue. In a Fortune magazine interview that sameyear Thomas Siebel, Siebel Systems founder and CEO, was asked about a new company andstated “There is no way that company exists in a year” (6). That company was Salesforce.com.Four years later Siebel Systems was out of business. Today Salesforce.com is the industry leaderin cloud CRM software applications with more than $2 billion in sales.With companies like Salesforce.com, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, SAP and hundreds of otherslike it, the cloud has transformed the way companies address their IT strategy regardless ofcompany size. In a November 2012 CDW “State of the Cloud” survey 21% of both smallbusiness and mid-market companies responded they used cloud offerings in 2011. In 2012 thatnumber jumped to 42% and 40% respectively. By 2016, 38% of the entire IT budget is expectedto be comprised of investments in cloud computing (2). Clearly mid-markets are choosing toleverage the cloud as a means to accomplish strategic initiatives and fuel growth.Mid-size organizations focused on growth face unique challenges in comparison to their smallbusiness and enterprise level counterparts. Like small businesses, mid-markets must innovaterapidly with limited resources in order to compete with enterprise level players. However, inorder to maintain existing market share, mid-market companies must also work within theconfines of their established business practices as the firm grows. According to findings fromthe GE Capital 2011 National Middle Market Summit, mid-market executives believe that inaddition to the primary objective of attracting new customers, the key elements to achievingcontinued growth are increasing operational efficiency, managing external pressures andregulations and investing in innovation (14). These fundamental goals align with the primarydrivers of cloud adoption as cited by CIO’s and business executives. In a 2012 DimensionalResearch survey the most compelling reasons for CIO’s to adopt cloud technologies include thevalue of cloud technology, compliance concerns and the ability to be competitive (4). Therefore,the correlated benefits of recaptured costs, enhanced security and increased agility offered bycloud technology do in fact level the playing field and give a competitive advantage to mid-markets players.Recaptured CostsForbes.com recently posted that the primary strategic CIO initiative for 2013 must be to simplifyIT and kick the 80/20 budget habit. According to the article most companies dedicate up to 80%of their IT budgets maintaining their current infrastructure and only 20% to funding innovation.Forbes suggests that it should be the initiative of every successful CIO to recapture at least 5% ofthese operational costs and reallocate them in pursuit of “snazzier and unquestionably vital newinitiatives” (5). This mindset is also in line with two primary growth initiatives cited by mid-market executives; investing in innovation and increasing operational efficiency (14).Fortunately for mid-market firms cloud technology offers clear opportunities to meet both ofthese objectives. By utilizing cloud technology mid-market companies can recapture costs byharnessing scalability, eliminating legacy and solidifying business continuity.Page 2
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive EdgeIn a traditional IT infrastructure the implementation a new system or service usually requires thepurchase of new hardware. Since this purchase is often considered a long-term capitalinvestment the infrastructure is typically sized so that a company will not immediately grow outof it. The effect of this method is that the company buys equipment that will not always be usedat full capacity. On the contrary, cloud solutions such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allowcompanies to consume or pay only for the resources currently being used. As infrastructureneeds expand, the cloud solution can be seamlessly scaled without a major upfront investment orcomplete overhaul of equipment. Such scalability facilitates flexible growth, eliminatesinvestment restrictions and frees up funds for other initiatives of growing mid-market firms.Figure 1: Shows how scalable cloud computing can be. A mid-size company can start with a very small virtualmachine, storage, bandwidth and database for resources. When more resources are needed you can increaseresources by moving the slider to the right. As an example, Microsoft cloud computing can provide a broad range ofinfrastructure needs; such as those required for a personal webpage to those required to run a multi-nationalcompany. This flexibility is vital for mid-size companies poised for future growth. (17)Page 3
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive EdgeSimilar to IaaS cloud offerings, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions provide mid-market firmswith an equitable opportunity to replace the aging legacy or cumbersome manual systems theyhave grown with. Regardless of whether a company is using a manual or an automated legacyapplication, the most obvious reasons for cloud migration are to reduce system costs and cash inon productivity gains. According to a research study referenced in the article “Evidence ofCloud Development Saving Development Time”, 65% of the cost of an application’s lifecyclecan be tied to maintenance due to a significant number of failures that are hard to locate becauseof overly complex processes (7). One specific burden is that many legacy systems are often builtvia legacy computer languages which add to the complexity of troubleshooting issues. Given thecomplexity, firms may have trouble sourcing the technical skillsets needed to support the legacysystem and therefore be forced to pay high consultant fees. Additionally, self-hosted systemsrequire an internal IT team to provide technical support and maintain patches and upgrades. Allof these secondary costs can be eliminated with a SaaS solution. By their nature SaaS solutionsare actively maintained and improved by the cloud vendor on a routine basis without anyinterruption to service. Lastly and possibly most important, mid-markets companies that chooseto invest in new SaaS solutions will have an opportunity to streamline existing processes and freeemployees to refocus their efforts onto more value added activities. Achieving such productivitygains and operational efficiencies are paramount to mid-market growth.Another major benefit of cloud solutions that is not often thought of in terms of cost reduction isguaranteed business continuity. According to the article titled “2013 CIO Strategy Guide: Top 5Strategic Issues” Ponemon Institute calculated that the average cost per minute of a systemoutage can exceed $5,000. The article also states that research by Gartner found that businessescan experience up to 87 hours of outages on average (1). Clearly, these potential losses would bea significant hit to a growing mid-market company. Likewise, an inability to consistentlyproduce quality products could cause customers and investors to question a firm’s reliability.Although cloud providers are not impervious to outages and downtime, it is their absolute goalthat such incidents be minimized. Internal IT departments typically have backup plans in placefor times of disaster or data loss. But true business continuity plans consisting of redundantpower, redundant internet connectivity and virtual appliances on stand-by for failover are oftennot in place due to costs and complexity. Cloud providers utilize these mechanisms and others toguarantee system redundancy and they routinely test the effectiveness of their continuity plans.Additionally, mid-market companies have the benefit of developing a well-structured ServiceLevel Agreement (SLA) with their cloud vendor that stipulates specific reimbursement rates forunplanned outages. Given the scope of inherent risks that a technical outage poses tomaintaining normal business operations and the restrictive costs required to facilitate trueredundancy, a move to the cloud provides an advantageous opportunity to mid-market firms.The cost benefits of cloud adoption achieved via harnessing scalability, eliminating legacy andsolidifying business continuity are squarely aligned with the underlying growth initiatives ofinnovation and operational efficiency. Cloud providers offer right-sized yet scalable solutionswith modular cost structures allowing mid-markets to expand business operations without hugecapital investments. Cloud solutions minimize the operating expenses required to maintain andhouse legacy applications and provide an opportunity to further streamline business processes.Solidifying business continuity plans minimizes the costly risk of data loss and technical outages.Given these factors, forward-thinking mid-market leaders that incorporate cloud technologies asPage 4
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edgea means to recapture and better allocate costs will be the leaders achieving success.Enhanced SecurityA primary concern that businesses raise when considering a move to the cloud is security. Thereis a perceived fear that the cloud is less secure than on-site storage since control over data isbeing relinquished. Companies have great reason to be concerned with the integrity of their data.Federal standards and recent breach notification rulings have put emphasis on maintainingappropriate security measures to protect information as well as requirements for strict actionplans in the event that a breach does occur. Failure to comply with these requirements can resultin lofty fines in addition to a blow to the company’s reputation. Yet, adhering to theseincreasingly complex and strict regulations is becoming a serious resource hog in terms of bothtechnical expertise and budget. This is why cloud providers are the best option for mid-sizecompanies in terms of enhanced security. With an unsurpassable investment in resources,efficient adaptability to change and a core focus on maintaining security cloud providers pass onthe benefit of equitable yet improved protection to mid-size organizations.In terms of resources mid-size firms can’t afford to invest in the same state of the art securitysystems and high level of staff expertise the way cloud vendors can. In a recent debate, ShelWaggener, Sr. Vice President at Internet2, stated “the cloud represents a $250 billion market.$250 billion in investment means an investment in security that will eclipse anything, any oneindividual or institution or state can accomplish on its own” (16). Given this magnitude, it’s easyto see that cloud providers are able to invest in the best of the best. Likewise, cloud vendors hirespecialized staff to concentrate on specific security concerns. These are cream of the cropexperts focused solely on minimizing threats to customer data. Smaller organizations with tightbudgets and varied business needs require their technical staff to cover and support manydifferent realms (11). Therefore, moving to the cloud allows mid-sized businesses access to asuperior level of security expertise without the superior expense.Another security advantage the cloud offers is efficiency in regards to regulatory adaptation andbest practice adoption. Cloud service providers keep up with the ever-changing regulatoryrequirements and the latest security upgrades in a way that most mid-sized companies cannot.First, as security demands change, mid-size firms must continue to spend their limited funds oncapital investments in security. At some point, mid-size firms may choose that such investmentsare not advantageous for the company and make-do with aging technology. For a cloud provider,investing in the latest security offerings is not optional. Secondly, enhanced products areimplemented by cloud companies long before a mid-sized company has time to thoroughlyassess and plan for them; and with little or no service interruption. Consequently, thefundamental design of the cloud solution makes adoption of security measures more efficient(11).Lastly, there is the fundamental business aspect of security for cloud providers. Providing asecure cloud solution is the core focus of every cloud provider. Cloud providers need todistinguish their service from other providers and offering clients top rate security is the way todo it (11). Cloud service providers take security measures seriously and any provider whodoesn’t simply won’t last. With this in mind, many cloud service providers have achieved highPage 5
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edgelevels of third party security certifications and validations. Serious cloud contenders are not justclaiming to be secure; they are backing it up with external resources (11). Some industrysecurity standards and certification requirements include: ISO/IEC 27001 certification,Registration with CSA STAR (Cloud Security Alliance’s Security, Trust, & Assurance registry)and the Cloud Control Matrix (CCM) (9). Additionally, cloud providers often serve as advisorsto the government agencies dictating the regulatory requirements mid-market companies face.Mid-market companies simply can’t maintain the same vested interest in security as cloudproviders.The misnomer that a cloud solution equates to an insecure solution is evaporating and statisticsprove it. According to a 2010 survey by Mimecast, 57 percent of respondents agree stating thatcloud computing actually improved their security (10). Clearly by leveraging the advantagesheld by a cloud provider; those being expansive resources, efficient adaptation methods and acore focus on security, mid-size businesses can enhance their security. To the contrary, mid-market firms that remain adamant about sustaining adequate security measures in-house will findtheir competitive stance erode as technical resources and budgets are diverted from supportingtrue strategic objectives.Increased AgilityMid-sized businesses that successfully coordinate their information technology and operate withagility possess a competitive edge. To maintain that competitive edge businesses have begun toleverage cloud computing as a means to acquire increased agility. In the European BusinessReview online, Michael Hugos, Principal at Center for Systems Innovation, makes several pointsthat frame the use of cloud computing in his article, “Agility and Cloud Computing”.Agility and Cloud Computing:1. “Success will go to those companies that combine business agility and cloud computing tocontinuously explore new opportunities. Attempts to pick winning opportunities by doinglengthy analysis do not work in our unpredictable real-time economy.”2. “The agility benefits of cloud computing far outweigh the purely cost saving benefits. Itenhances a company’s ability to bring new products to market and improves its capability toexpand geographically and open new offices.”3. “Using cloud technology to enable new business formation and new product developmentcreates what could be called multinational small and medium businesses (SMBs). With cloud-based technology SMBs can now be truly global where 10 years ago they could not afford theICT (Information and Communication Technology) infrastructure to support global operations inan integrated fashion. For instance, such businesses can open new sales offices in countriesaround the world and conduct local sales campaigns in a way unthinkable before. Opening newcountry sales offices simply means paying for more people to use a cloud-based CRM packageand a cloud-based teleconferencing system.” (8)To summarize Hugos’ point, the agility acquired through cloud technology allows mid-size firmsPage 6
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edgeto bring revolutionary products to market and develop new sales channels. The agile benefits ofrapid implementations, unrestricted mobility and leveraged social engagement competitively aidmid-markets in achieving their primary growth initiative of attracting new customers.A multitude of service models are offered by cloud providers including Software as a Service(SaaS), Network as a Service (NaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as aService (IaaS). The intrinsic scalability and modularity available within these solutions allowsfirms to rapidly deploy new products and new infrastructures. According to a recent articleposted by Cloud Computing Journal titled “Agile Cloud, Big Data and Mobility” cloudcomputing has significantly reduced application deployment times and allowed firms to test outnew ideas without significant infrastructure investment (3). For example, mid-size firms canimmediately spin up virtual testing platforms that mirror productions systems. This allows firmsto test product innovations faster and with limited financial risk. Similarly, cloud computingsolutions, such as virtual desktop infrastructure, allow mid-markets to rapidly deploy sub-networks and globally expand its operational reach in an instant. By employing cloudtechnology, mid-markets garner a clear competitive advantage in terms of product and marketdevelopment.As true with scalability, growth-focused organizations can profit from the undeniable valuegained by increasing workforce mobility. An unrestricted mobile infrastructure providesanytime-anywhere access to systems and supports instant workforce collaboration. In addition tothese productivity gains as Beecher Tuttle explains in his blog article titled “Leveraging thePower of the Cloud to Deliver Teleworking, Social Networking Services” recent advances inmobility offerings now allow firms to develop complete, holistic teleworking models. Byinstituting such models, mid-market firms can not only utilize a global workforce butsimultaneously improve employee morale (15).Figure 2: The diagram above details the critical elements within a mobile cloud solution which increases agility: “Arobust service platform enables the needed capabilities of a mobile enterprise platform.” (12)Page 7
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive EdgeAs depicted in Figure 2 a secure and stable mobility infrastructure includes virtualizedapplications, identity and device management and centralized data storage. To implement andmaintain these systems in-house would restrict the technical resources and budget of mid-marketfirms. However as discussed by CEO of Tellago, Jesus Rodriguez, in his SYS-CON CloudComputing Journal online article titled, “Using the Cloud to Enable Next-Generation EnterpriseMobility Solutions”, “Cloud computing infrastructures offer a unique opportunity to enable asimpler, better and more agile approach to enterprise mobility. In addition to its numeroustechnical benefits, a cloud-based model to enterprise mobility can leverage the economics ofscale that, at the end, have made cloud computing the most important technology movement of ageneration” (12). Like the benefits of SaaS and other subsets of cloud technologies, utilizingcloud based mobility solutions gives mid-markets scalable access to cutting-edge technologywithout administrative cost and burden.As is the case with mobility, leading businesses have begun to harness the power of social cloudsas a means to understand their customers, improve products and expand their marketing reach.Through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn mid-market companies canspark customer engagement and strengthen their brand. Additionally, by analyzing the chatterand analytics customers imprint on social networks mid-markets firms can cash in on customer-driven product ideation and quickly bring winning products to market. As discussed in thearticle “Leverage Social CRM, Billing To Better Engage And Understand Your Customers” yetanother wave of agile marketing strategy is upon us; the integration between customerengagement and sales data. “The future for cloud, SaaS and social business models is focusedaround the power of social CRM and billing data combined. It is not just about tweeting,AdWords or liking a Facebook business page. Social CRM and billing involves building acomplete relationship model and holistic financial picture of the customer. Only then can a SaaSbusiness engage and respond to customers in valuable ways that impact the bottom line of theorganization and drives organizational valuation” (13). The article suggests that by fusingfinancial, customer relationship and social analytic data companies will be able to instantlypredict customer needs and wants prior to their decision points. This level of targeting isinvaluable especially in the context of high value customers. For example, an auto dealer with aNissan Altima for sale could receive a system alert whenever a potential client liked, wrote aboutor searched for an Altima. Backed by historical sales data, the alert would also provide arecommend discount to be offered to the client via Facebook message. That traceable messagecould then be sent to the targeted client with just the click of a button. Such immediate anddirect promotion improves ROI by strictly narrowing marketing efforts on those customersspecifically seeking the message. While such system synergy may not yet exist when it does itcan only be facilitated by cloud technology. Therefore, mid-markets that establish their cloudstrategy now will be properly positioned to garner the marketing advances that are bound tocome to fruition and aggressively compete for new sales.Clearly, cloud computing provides mid-size companies with alternatives to leverage and enhanceagility in decision making, development and execution at all levels of the company. The benefitsoffered by the cloud in terms of rapid deployment, unrestricted mobility and leveraging of socialengagement will prove instrumental as mid-markets seek to develop new products, customerbase and sales channels. As standard practice, growth-focused mid-market firms willcontinuously evaluate and redesign their individual cloud strategies as a means to maintainPage 8
  • Leveling the Playing Field: How Cloud Technology Gives Mid-Size Firms a Competitive Edgeongoing business agility and achieve their primary initiative of utilizing innovation to attract newcustomers.SummaryThe top items on any CIO’s current agenda include security, cost and agility. Yet mid-marketCIO’s are also faced with unique challenges in terms of addressing these needs. The costeffective software and toolset options available to small businesses do not meet the larger needsof mid-market companies nor do mid-markets have the market share or ability to harnesstraditional enterprise level pricing of the more sophisticated technologies on the market.Additionally, mid-size firms are exposed to more regulatory scrutiny than their small businesscounterparts but at the same time have less resources than the enterprise players to address theseconcerns. In terms of agility, mid-markets by nature of their more grounded establishmentcannot as quickly test, implement and adapt to new technologies like a small business can. Asmall business can afford to make a technology mistake as the company learns to navigate theindustry and garner market share. Similarly, mid-markets looking to grow must be able to adaptmore quickly that their enterprise level foes in order to capture their market share. In essencemid-market organizations are tasked to conquer enterprise level challenges with small businessresources.Cloud technology provides solutions to these challenges and levels the playing field for mid-sizecompanies. By providing enterprise level security, cost benefits in terms of scalability andreliability and unlimited opportunities in terms of innovation and agility, cloud adoption is a win-win for any mid-market firm. The cloud has no edge. Therefore, it is destined to expand andwill continue to fundamentally change the nature of business technologies. Astute mid-marketexecutives will recognize the competitive advantage offered through cloud technology. Theywill harness its power to fuel business initiatives and lead their companies to sustained success.Those that don’t will be left behind.Page 9
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