The use of the cloud is no longer being addressed by just the CIO of an organisation. The CEO, CTO and CFO all need to understand the environment.
There are many issues that need to be addressed to ensure your IT services can be met with cloud computing, and to ensure your organisation receives value for money.
It all began …
A few years ago, all the talk in the data centre environment was to do with capacity and environmental issues. Issues like having enough space, power and cooling. These were solved by optimising the facility infrastructure with better engineering principles, like using hot/cold aisles to improve energy efficiency.
Today, the talk is about virtualisation. This enables us to optimise legacy infrastructure and services without having to re-engineer the data centre facility infrastructure.
This latter development has spawned a whole new IT environment: the cloud.
Clouds are hardware-based hosted services offering computing, network and storage capacity. The key characteristics of the cloud IT infrastructure are:
- it’s highly elastic
- you pay for a service — infrastructure, platform or software.
This means you have a scalable resource that’s paid for as an operations expense rather than a capital expense.
Companies can use this type of infrastructure to deliver services to themselves or their customers when they don’t want to build infrastructure that needs to meet a peak capacity. So you can reduce up-front capital expenditure and, more importantly, the total cost of ownership that’s incurred to meet projected processing demands that may never be realised.
Cloud computing isn’t new, but now we have the technology to exploit it
The concept of cloud computing has been around for many years in the form of grid or utility computing. It’s not until recent years — with the advent of virtualisation products and services such as VMware — that the full potential of the cloud concept is being realised.
Private and public organisations need to apply caution when entering this nebulous, virtual IT environment. The industry is not mature and there are numerous pitfalls that can lead to an underwhelming experience. And that will, invariably, be costly.
Incidents like check-in problems experienced by one of Australia’s domestic air carriers clearly highlight what can occur to any organisation when they use a cloud to supply services.
What do organisations want from a cloud model?
- a scalable, robust and secure infrastructure
- availability of services when needed
- to pay for what’s used (no stand-by charges)
- to know up-front what they are paying for.
The cloud has obvious benefits — so, why aren’t more organisations using it?
To answer this question, let’s look at some of the barriers organisations face.
Security and reliability concerns will have to be mitigated and applications re-architected. There is a long road ahead before all of the touch points are fully understood and bedded down.
There is a corporate comfort in the way IT is managed and delivered today, with its mature operating and governance standards and processes. Moving to the cloud model will mean changes to how an organisation manages these services, and how it deals with the invisible nature of the way services are delivered and of where its data is stored. There will also be a greater reliance on the quality and functionality of the management tools.
There needs to be a solid business case for any organisation to move its products and services — its business — to a cloud model.
Legal and security barriers
Throwing data into the cloud means that organisations can have serious issues when it comes to control.
Imagine this scenario:
You have sensitive data (intellectual capital) stored in the cloud. It could sit on any machine in your service provider’s environment.
Another organisation using the same service provider, with data stored on the same machine, commits a felony. The relevant regulatory authority enters the premises of the service provider and confiscates the machine. Your data, being on that machine, is now inaccessible … to be returned at the whim of the authorities. Given some corporate crime cases, that could be several years.
With the virtual and invisible nature of information in the cloud, the biggest risk is jurisdiction. Because your data could be replicated globally, if there is a dispute or breach that involves your data, under which law will the dispute or breach be resolved?
What else do I need to consider before using cloud computing?
The difficulty in sourcing public, and to a lesser extent private, cloud services cannot be lightly dismissed. It’s a matter of addressing a range of issues and understanding:
- your own immediate IT environment
- your networking, applications and storage needs
- governance, probity and contract issues
- legal issues.
By understanding these core issues and, more importantly, identifying the risk, you’ll determine whether the cloud is right for your organisation and its requirements.