Is resistance to the public cloud softening?

February 14th, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

 

“It is in the cloud” is a term often bandied about, but the questions still remain: when to opt for a private cloud and when to take the bold step to move into the public cloud?

Alexander Mehlhorn, Framework One.

Alexander Mehlhorn, Framework One.

A lack of understanding of the practical implications of moving into the cloud is keeping South African companies from huge cost-saving and efficiency-improving benefits, according to Alexander Mehlhorn, CEO of Framework One. He believes that it is fear, based on misconceptions about the cloud, that for many companies is still the stumbling block.

“In many of our interactions with clients, there is an inherent fear over the security of their information in the cloud. This, coupled with low confidence in our broadband connectivity is keeping many organisations out of the cloud – often with huge cost implications.”

According to Mehlhorn, companies only stand to gain from adopting cloud-based services. “The cloud services industry has matured to the point where a physical server room is all but obsolete. By using cloud-based services, you save a huge amount of money on physical infrastructure, lower your risk in terms of backups, and since you’re not spending a large chunk of time, money and effort on maintaining physical server infrastructure, you free yourself up to focus on the more important things – like running a profitable business.”

Physical server rooms can be incredibly expensive to run. Depending on the size of the organisation, you could end up spending millions on top-end blade servers. But the costs only start there. “You’ll need additional building space to house the servers, air conditioning to keep them cool, security measures to protect data in case of a disaster, additional bandwidth, a team of dedicated support staff that can ensure 24/7 availability, and a robust backup solution. If you were running your business in the cloud, the cloud service provider would be managing all of this. Plus, if there’s a fire and your entire office burns down, you can simply access your data remotely via the cloud, with no disruption to your normal business practices,” explains Mehlhorn.

He says there’s a lack of understanding among local business owners that hampers cloud service adoption. “The two most common concerns we encounter when meeting new clients are security and lack of bandwidth. In terms of security, let’s say you take your services to the cloud on a platform such as Windows Azure and Office 365. Microsoft now looks after the security of your data – chances are they’re doing a better job than you could, simply because they will run more frequent tests and have access to more talented and experienced security consultants that you simply can’t afford. Most companies won’t be able to even come close to the level of security of mainstream cloud service providers.

“Companies often underestimate how much data a physical server room uses. “In the traditional company model, you have a server room at your headquarters that all branches lead into through the main data pipe. All company data is channelled through here – email, browsing, all of it. Move into the cloud, suddenly each branch connects directly to the cloud. Since you’re fetching data directly from the cloud instead of data being pushed to your device by a server, you only use data on the pieces of information you are actually interested in. And if you need additional capacity, it’s easy enough to upscale, without any expensive investments in infrastructure.”

Richard Verster, EOH Cloud Services.

Richard Verster, EOH Cloud Services.

He adds that the trend of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) means staff are accessing email through smartphones and tablets in addition to their company laptops or desktop machines. “If you’re running a physical exchange server, all emails are pushed to every connected device regardless of whether the mails are needed on that particular device. This exponentially increases the amount of data going through the company’s main pipe.”

Richard Verster of EOH Cloud Services points to a study done late last year by Verizon in the US, showing that large companies have roughly doubled the volume of data stored in the public cloud over the past 18 months. This despite some remaining security concerns.

He believes that this is partly due to the increased adoption of the private cloud. “Private cloud adopters are definitely feeling more at ease, making it more likely that they will look at moving some less critical applications into the public cloud. Larger companies seem increasingly more comfortable with deploying technology that does not reside in their own data centre.”

While this is a positive increase in the confidence in public cloud, mass uptake still seems way away. For many a hybrid solution is still the option, i.e. core activities in the private cloud and less sensitive activity in the public cloud.

“With the hybrid, things are spread out over a private and public cloud which means a company can keep each aspect of it business in the most efficient way possible but the downside is that companies then have to keep track of multiple security platforms and yet ensure that all aspects of the business can communicate with each other. Firewalls are something of the past and are making way for unified threat management systems which ease the management of security.”

When discussing the security of the cloud, JJ Miller, MD and chief cloud architect at Global Micro Solution suggests that because public clouds are fundamentally multi-tenant, to justify the scale and economics of the cloud, security is a common concern. Whereas the traditional security perimeter is a network firewall, the cloud security perimeter now becomes the hypervisor and/or underlying cloud application. “Thus far, security in the cloud has been good, but this is very cloud dependent and requires a solid design and operational rigour that prioritises security. Also, handing ones data and systems to someone else requires proper internal controls to ensure that not just anyone has access.” JJ emphasises that customers need to be sure to ask potential cloud providers about security from technical, operational, and control perspectives, as well as what experience they have being stewards of customer systems and data. If the public cloud is fundamentally not secure enough, customers should consider an on-premise cloud, virtual private cloud, or some sort of hybrid cloud solution that allows maintenance of the level of security the company requires.

A shift in skills

JJ Miller, Global Micro Solutions.

JJ Miller, Global Micro Solutions.

“While moving to the cloud removes the need for server technicians, it does mean you’ll need to employ a technician to look after the cloud services. You’re going to need someone that focuses on ensuring all the cloud services are running optimally, and to make recommendations for new services that can provide business benefits. However, in this regard there’s a big opportunity for educating IT professionals.” says Mehlhorn.

“IT technicians often struggle to get to grips with cloud services. There’s a loss of control – IT no longer has access to the nitty-gritty of the various services. Instead of having access to the deeper levels of code that they’d traditionally have, they now interact with the services via a console. This, coupled with a fear that cloud services will make certain job functions redundant, makes IT professionals resistant to adopting the cloud – with potentially huge implications for the organisation. Overcoming this fear is often the biggest practical obstacle for companies who wish to evolve to a modern cloud-first organisation.”

I believe that as companies gain confidence in the private cloud, their reluctance to move into the public cloud will soften. There is of course also the question of where the cloud, private or public is hosted. The Protection of Private Information (PoPI) Act requires that some information may only be stored in South Africa. More questions to ask your cloud service provider! Cloud is a big subject with many different views held.

Drop me an email with how you see cloud technology. Will it go more public in future? Mail me at hans.vandegroenendaal@ee.co.za

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