Reassessing the ‘Fit-For-Purpose’ Cloud

The term cloud computing holds many different definitions depending on who you ask. And with cloud computing-related issues hitting the news every other week, there has never been a better time to revisit what cloud computing can offer, the important aspects of cloud computing that need to be considered and how to make it work for you, not against you.

How would you like that workload delivered?

It all starts with understanding the use case, associating the workload to the right type of cloud resource and implementing the right service that is fit-for-purpose for your business.  And while each type of cloud (public, private and hybrid) have use cases that are a natural fit, it’s the blend of dedicated and shared resources that are garnering the most interest, i.e. hybrid cloud computing.  So, which use cases are suited for a hybrid cloud?  They include (but are not limited to):

  • Web/E-Commerce, e.g. retail sites needing compliance with easy, quick scalability for sales & marketing campaigns/promotions
  • Data Protection, e.g. utilising a cloud resource in a secondary DC for Disaster Recovery purposes
  • Development and Testing of Applications, empowering developers with the freedom to utilise dynamic, flexible compute/storage resources
  • Standard (Office) Applications, i.e. offloading business functions such as email (Exchange) and collaboration (SharePoint), releasing on-premise resources for more important and/or strategic projects
  • Outsourcing Data Centre Resources, providing immediately available, on-demand resources, that can be turned off when not required

At MTI, many of our clients are planning a transition to adopt or at least better utilise cloud services and want advice as to which is the right type of cloud service for their specific use case/s.  Some of the most common challenges are to ensure the proposed service is in line with overall business objectives and IT strategy, to eliminate security concerns and to deliver a tangible service improvement and/or return on investment (ROI). Whether the recommendation is to utilise MTI’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), to help deliver a hybrid solution, or broker a partnership for other services, it is our role as a trusted service provider and partner, to help our clients build the appropriate business case, to support proposed investment and transition and to make the process as clear, simple and risk-free as possible.

All for one and one for all?

Let’s cut to the chase.  While cloud computing can benefit all organisations, not all applications or workloads readily fit into the cloud computing models, illustrated above.  And then there are the different types and merits of cloud services on offer (public, private, hybrid) that need to be considered too.  However, don’t feel that you’re late to the cloud game.

In my opinion, 2011 was the year when cloud computing was really introduced. Many believed it was nothing more than a spin by marketing to create a new industry buzz word.  However, the demand for scalable, flexible compute and storage resources was always there.

In 2012, many vendors started to understand this new form of providing compute/storage resource and jumped on the bandwagon, some faster than others, via proof-of-concept (PoC) projects. Businesses were learning about the concepts of cloud computing and understanding the importance of having a secure cloud service, which could improve business processes and reduce costs.

2013 was the year of the ‘cloud savvy’; where businesses became more comfortable where and how cloud computing could fit into their IT strategy. Based on proof of concept (PoC) projects, organisations started to implement both test/development and production clouds to realise benefits such as better control of costs and removing infrastructure distractions, in order to focus on more valuable and strategic areas of IT in line with business goals.

However, fast forward to 2014…With year-on-year challenges to meet aggressive revenue targets, to manage the continued growth in shadow IT, and to keep control of increasing costs associated with business-as-usual activities, the need for cloud computing is almost a given to survive in today’s global economy.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a business enabler, not just a cloud…

As obvious as this may sound, it’s absolutely imperative that businesses ensure the integrity of their intellectual property, stored in a cloud service, to protect the brand and reputation of their company. Selecting the right cloud service/s, such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), can help with consistent and increased delivery of revenue/market growth streams.  To do this, it’s important to understand the characteristics of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS):

Resource Pooling Clients may use IaaS to change their model from machine-based resources to highly elastic resource pools, shared across applications and users.  This enables automated on-demand resource allocation in the most efficient and flexible manner.
Zero-Touch Infrastructure Policy-driven management automates routine operational tasks, minimising operational expense and overheads.
Platform Control A robust platform built for high availability with the ability to optimise resource allocations, ensuring defined service levels are met.  Inherent disaster recovery mechanisms ensure business continuity.  Self-optimising security model encompasses dynamic infrastructure ensuring application performance is not affected.
Cloud Interoperability Application mobility between clouds within a common management framework, based on open standards, extended to a large ecosystem of public cloud providers.
Utilisation of Existing Assets Ability to bring existing applications and all of IT into an appropriate cloud computing model, through a staged, evolutionary approach, often starting with an organisations’ on-premise IT infrastructure

Once clients have decided to adopt Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), businesses need to consider how the cloud service will impact the organisation. That’s where MTI comes into play. Our role is more than just provisioning on-demand compute and storage resources.  It is much more about enabling and underpinning other services to increase productivity, improve business processes and reduce costs, providing 24/7 support and consultancy. It’s also important to agree a roadmap of the different cloud services available and how each could positively impact the business and be beneficial in the long term.  Here are my top tips for businesses adopting cloud:

  1. Improve user experience

The cloud service must be so good that employees want to use it on their personal device, and so easy to use that they would also adopt this service for personal use, if available for that purpose.  This starts to help manage the continuing challenge of shadow IT.

  1. Provide security assurance

With more and more intellectual property stored/processed in the cloud, businesses need to be aware of the broad and varied selection of security tools on offer to protect their business.  Such tools range from die-hards like anti-virus and firewalls, but intrusion prevention systems, web reputation services and vulnerability shielding are all becoming popular in the fight to protect the cloud.  At MTI, we take it further and help by offering options to respond to attacks like ransomware, such as Cryptolocker (check my earlier blog on this).  Ransomware encrypts all files in the cloud and then demands a ransom (normally money) to unlock them.

  1. Deliver new value-added services

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides organisations with the ability to scale up and down to meet demands, increase agility and flexibility. IaaS can help to improve business continuity, collaboration in the workplace and managing/sharing large files.  However, it’s important to note that cloud computing is a new paradigm with regards application development, so be prepared to assess your existing IT enterprise and architecture and create a cloud-ready application landscape.

  1. Know what your workforce needs

Businesses looking to migrate to IaaS need to plan from a technical, operational, commercial and, most importantly, cultural perspective. Culture is important, as the initial motivation for adopting IaaS to drive new value-added services, as employees must want a service that works for them, is flexible to meet their needs, delivers increased productivity and helps them manage their workload.

  1. Get supported

Everyman and his dog is able to deliver an IaaS platform, but organisations need a platform which will enable them to deliver new value-added services, to remain robust and high performing.  Any vendor/service provider worth its salt, that is providing IaaS, will also have a managed services division providing 24/7 support. There should also be clearly defined service level agreements (SLAs), backed by service credits, with flexible options to meet specific requirements and service level objectives (SLOs), based upon an industry-recognised framework such as ITIL.

Hopefully I’ve offered some insights and food for thought on important aspects for consideration, when procuring and utilising cloud services. Organisations need to be aware of the different types of services on offer, potential impacts and which will best suit their business and culture. The adoption of a cloud service should not be a daunting task for organisations.  It should underpin business growth, the ability to deliver new services to market in reduced timeframes, provide simplified business processes, ease of use that encourages collaboration in the workplace and reduced cost, in turn, accelerating more profitable returns.

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