Cloud and As-a-Service Solutions
Bypassing IT hardware supply chain headaches
By Tracy Barbour

ersistent supply chain problems are especially challenging for organizations that struggle to obtain information technology (IT) equipment. With IT hardware lead times, it can take months instead of the more traditional weeks to procure firewalls, servers, workstations, laptops, and other critical components. Gartner research indicates that lead times for network hardware will be prolonged until mid-2023 and then gradually decline during the rest of the year.

However, organizations can leverage various cloud and as-a-service options to avoid some technology-related supply chain issues. Unlike traditional IT, which requires up-front purchase or licensing, cloud and cloud-enabled as-a-service solutions can reduce the need to maintain physical servers. This can help companies save time and money while improving efficiency and competitiveness. It can also allow businesses to minimize the effects of supply chain disruptions and strengthen their IT resilience.

Roger Joys headshot
Roger Joys
Cloud infrastructure provides almost instant access to computing and storage as well as a multitude of application services that can be leveraged to deliver business value, according to Roger Joys, vice president of Enterprise Cloud Platform at GCI. “The key here is that infrastructure is ‘on-demand’ and only limited by a company’s budget,” he says. Public cloud eliminates concerns over procuring, receiving, installing, and bringing on-premise services into service. With pricing being consumption-based, organizations do not have to go through forecasting exercises or other capacity exercises.

However, this technological advantage comes at a cost. “Public cloud is usually more costly to run and is treated as operating expenses as opposed to the traditional capitalization treatment given on premise hardware,” Joys explains.

Public cloud is a type of architecture for implementing cloud services. Public clouds are owned and operated by third-party providers, which deliver computing resources like servers and storage over the internet. With public clouds, the provider manages all the hardware, software, and other supporting infrastructure.

In Joys’ view, on-demand consumption is the most attractive model in the public cloud space to foster innovation and reduce or eliminate an on-premise lab or innovation center. “As business solutions become institutionalized, most public cloud providers will offer some form of subscription or similar to make a ‘consumption commit’ at both the micro and macro level,” he says.

The kind of cloud an organization chooses comes down to its specific requirements. “Any company, including GCI, does face the reality of physics, where even with high-speed fiber connections to the Lower 48, there is inherent latency,” Joys says. “Thus, public cloud is not always the right choice for a company such as GCI when real-time processing is required. The public cloud for infrastructure or hosted business solutions is, however, an excellent choice for business applications that are not as sensitive.”

Businesses can also opt to deploy cloud services using private cloud and/or hybrid cloud. Private cloud is cloud computing that is dedicated solely to an organization, and hybrid cloud is an environment that employs a combination of public and private clouds.

Transporting equipment to Alaska’s off-the-road locations, such as Sitka, was expensive and time consuming even before the pandemic affected supply chains. Cloud and as-a-service options allow businesses in any community access to computing and storage solutions without investing in all of the required IT equipment.

Monica Sterchi-Lowman | Alaska Business

cars driving on wet roads in an Alaskan town
Common Cloud Services
Some of the most frequently used cloud computing services are infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS). The most basic category is IaaS, which is cloud-based provisioning of computing resources over the internet. With IaaS, companies rent IT infrastructure—servers, virtual machines, storage, networks, operating systems—from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis. Their IT teams manage operating systems, databases, applications, functions, and data, allowing for greater control and flexibility than other service models. Common examples of IaaS include Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure.

SaaS is a method for delivering software applications over the Internet, typically on a subscription basis. With SaaS, cloud providers host and manage the software application and underlying infrastructure. They also handle maintenance, including software upgrades and security patching. Popular SaaS business applications are email, customer relationship management software, cloud-based file storage, and collaboration software. PaaS, on the other hand, provides the tools and environment to build, manage, and run software applications.

Another popular option for implementing cloud services is hardware-as-a-service (HaaS). This solution involves hardware—such as servers, computers, and other devices—that companies borrow rather than purchase. A managed service provider installs the hardware at the client’s site under a contract that spells out the terms, including the subscription costs, replacement, and monitoring and maintenance responsibilities.

Organizations have been increasingly implementing as-a-service options as part of the broader everything-as-a-service (XaaS) model. XaaS—also known as anything-as-a-service—encompasses all the products, tools, and capabilities that are digitally delivered to users as services. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of XaaS, and service-based technologies are likely here to stay, according to the 2021 Deloitte Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) Study. In particular, adopters were leveraging XaaS to access cutting-edge features and technologies, accelerate innovation, and get their products and services to market faster. More than eight out of ten respondents in Deloitte’s survey said their companies were using SaaS, IaaS, and/or PaaS.

“Public cloud is usually more costly to run and is treated as operating expenses as opposed to the traditional capitalization treatment given on premise hardware.”
Roger Joys
Vice President of Enterprise Cloud Platform, GCI
Easing Supply Chain Pain
In Alaska and elsewhere, most companies have focused their initial cloud use cases for back-office and development/innovation use cases, Joys says. SaaS-based solutions for business applications are often the fastest time to value, with a fast follower of hosting solutions on public cloud infrastructure. PaaS platforms continue to get more adoption, but at a glacially slow pace. “Companies lean toward either SaaS solutions or leveraging public cloud infrastructure or application services,” he says.

Currently, GCI is taking advantage of Microsoft Office tools, inclusive of remote conferencing, document management, email, and general collaboration. “These solutions historically have been hosted on premise and require both a capital investment and staffing to simply keep the applications healthy,” Joys says. “Public cloud services have allowed teams to focus on the value proposition of the application as opposed to routine operations.”

Cindy Christopher headshot
Cindy Christopher
Alaska Communications
When it comes to HaaS, most of the predominant public cloud providers offer dedicated hardware hosting. Other players in this area host and maintain hardware and middleware—which acts as a bridge between an operating system or database and applications—for a company. “There are a multitude of options available, and companies contemplating this should clearly define their requirements and expected outcomes in order to find the right model,” Joys says.

Alaska Communications (ACS) also offers cloud-based solutions that can help organizations reduce the impact of supply chain delays. The company’s Technology-as-a-Service option provides business customers a holistic environment that includes servers and hardware equipment for a monthly fee. One of the benefits to the customer is it moves capital expenditures into operating expenses, according to ACS Director of Managed IT Cindy Christopher.

Benefits of Cloud Services
There are significant advantages to using cloud-based solutions. As an on-demand, self-service environment, the cloud can significantly help businesses achieve digital transformation and efficiency. “When you move to the cloud or a SaaS solution, you eliminate the need for hardware, like servers and replacement items, which are sometimes difficult to receive in a timely manner due to supply chain constraints,” Christopher says.

Moving to the cloud also has additional hardware benefits. For instance, organizations can reduce their need for bulky, expensive laptops. And with all their data, files, and programs in the cloud, they can select budget-friendly, end-user computing options. In general, Christopher says, a cloud-based infrastructure

  • reduces risk of lost data;
  • minimizes the chance of downtime (with less hardware that can fail);
  • increases geographic diversity, with data stored in more than one location (if one site goes down, another site backs it up);
  • and offers advantages for remote or distributed work environments.

When leveraged appropriately, public cloud enables companies to focus on extracting value from the application itself and defocus on the daily operational considerations, Joys says. With cybersecurity threats increasing, for instance, IT shops are spending more time on patching and security hardening for on-premise applications. “Public cloud does not in any way eliminate this; however, if done well and with a thoughtful plan, [it] can mitigate this,” he says.

Public cloud is also a good choice for companies focusing on innovation. Being able to experiment with new technologies and services in a secure enclave on the public cloud enhances innovation while reducing the cost. Joys explains, “In many cases, it can also eliminate ‘double paying’ supply chain, where companies purchase lab or small-scale hardware to experiment in a cost-effective manner, then, if the solution is viable, repeat the supply chain exercise.”

Another area that benefits greatly from public cloud services is data science. Historically, hosting solutions like Apache Hadoop require a significant investment in both hardware—which has to be maintained—and staffing for specialized skills. “Public cloud providers have democratized these large data science platforms, enabling increased focus on solving business problems,” Joys says.

Partnering with a Managed Provider
Although there are numerous benefits from cloud solutions, Christopher wishes to rebut a common myth: “Moving to the cloud will not eliminate your need for in-house IT professionals or IT support through a managed provider,” she says.

In addition, Christopher says organizations should keep in mind that the value of cloud computing can only be realized through successful migration. “Working with experienced cloud experts will help your businesses smoothly transition to the cloud,” she says.

Bill Smith headshot
Bill Smith
State of Alaska
Having a smooth transition was crucial for the Alaska Department of Administration’s cloud migration project. Alaska Communications is supporting the state’s digital transformation. The executive branch had long been using SaaS applications when it began executing the large-scale migration, according to Bill Smith, chief information officer at the State of Alaska.

Smith says the rapid migration to cloud-based computing represents an important part of the state’s ongoing work to take full advantage of world-class security features to protect Alaskans’ data, modernize state IT systems, and dramatically improve the state’s response to unexpected disruption. Following this rapid migration, applications will continue with standard life cycle improvements to take advantage of the full range of cloud native features.

The state’s cloud adoption strategies range from IaaS, which is being used to rapidly move on-premise resources, through SaaS and modernized cloud native applications that offer enhanced features and replace on-premise systems.

“Through this far-reaching project, the State of Alaska will see enhanced security and benefit from the scale, performance, and innovation that comes with cloud computing without many of the limitations imposed by ongoing supply chain concerns,” Smith says.

On a smaller scale, Alaska Communications has provided similar services for business customers. Many of its retail customers use a cloud environment to support point-of-sale operations and the ability to do business anywhere, Christopher says.

When capitalizing on cloud solutions, it can be advantageous for organizations to partner with a managed service provider like Alaska Communications or GCI. Alaska Communications, for instance, helps its customers identify, transition, and manage their cloud subscription services. “Although cloud solutions can minimize supply chain risk and disruptions, it is important to evaluate the business needs of our customer,” Christopher says. “Our first step is to evaluate their environment and advise if they are a good candidate to move to the cloud.”

A primary benefit of using a managed service provider is economies of scale and buying power, Christopher says. “We have experience and relationships with multiple manufacturers and frequently craft creative solutions for securing equipment for our customers,” she says. “As an example, we work with customers in the resource industry where seasonal networks are needed at man camps in remote areas. We work with them on their timeline to design the network and secure equipment. Last year was the most challenging year I’ve experienced due to supply chain issues. We worked with multiple vendors to secure equipment to meet our customers’ business needs.”

“When you move to the cloud or a SaaS solution, you eliminate the need for hardware, like servers and replacement items, which are sometimes difficult to receive in a timely manner due to supply chain constraints.”
Cindy Christopher
Director of Managed IT
Alaska Communications
Important Considerations
Not every organization will find success operating in the cloud, Christopher cautions. Some businesses can do everything in the cloud; others opt for a hybrid approach; and some still have on-premise needs. For example, businesses that need to frequently access and modify large data files would probably not want to use a solely public cloud solution, as they could incur hidden costs with ingress/egress fees. “Another aspect to keep in mind is end-user experience if your business has a remote or hybrid workforce,” she says. “The end user’s experience is dependent upon internet connectivity at their location, which sometimes isn’t sufficient to support the necessary file upload and download speed to support productivity.”

Therefore, companies should think about what their end users—their employees—will be doing in the cloud and how that will affect the customer experience. Another important consideration: whether the business is a good candidate for operating in the cloud. It’s also essential to consider the costs associated with migration and maintenance. “Businesses that felt priced out of a cloud solution a few years ago may now find it more attractive with rising equipment/hardware costs and supply chain concerns,” Christopher says. “A lot has changed in the last few years.”

Christopher recommends that businesses reach out to a managed provider for a consultation: “A trusted managed provider who understands your network can provide counsel on what type of cloud solution is best for your business and your goals.”