European clouds - the virtual journeys

Though the concept of "cloud computing" is not new, it is undisputable that it has captured the imagination of the IT industry and will play a large part in the ICT domain over the next 10 years or more. Particularly as future systems further...


Though the concept of "cloud computing" is not new, it is undisputable that it has captured the imagination of the IT industry and will play a large part in the ICT domain over the next 10 years or more. Particularly as future systems further exploit the capabilities of managed services and on-demand resource provisioning.

Cloud computing has become popular because the challenges inherent in managing technology based on the principles of previous eras - complex, custom, expensive solutions managed by large in-house IT teams - have become greater. Furthermore, the benefits of cloud computing in addressing these challenges have matured to become more attractive to a wide range of organisations.

Therefore, it is important that organisations are able to cut through the hype surrounding cloud computing and have a clear understanding of what activities can be most effectively and efficiently moved into a cloud based services model. A critical step is to find the decision point for cloud deployment. For example: is ownership of infrastructure the most effective use of your resources? What level of security and service delivery are the most appropriate for your needs, and which providers are best placed to support you?

The cloud, as opposed to cloud computing, is a concept. Understanding the cloud computing model and its topology in Europe is an important component of the decision making process.

Cloud computing isn't just about technology and it isn't just about virtualising servers and virtual data centres. As an operating model, it cannot ignore or wish away regulatory and national business environments. This leads to the "many clouds" concept - already the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) cloud definition in the US defined four deployment models for cloud computing: Private, Public, Hybrid and Community.

The deep complexities of managing a cloud infrastructure for the enterprise are only just beginning to be addressed. When you add to that the complexities of operating across markets, each with their own set of regulations and compliance, you begin to realise that a one size fits all approach is unlikely to prevail in Europe. For example, the period a company is allowed to store users' data ranges from six months in some EU nations to two years in others. 

Some countries, including Germany and France, forbid some sensitive data from leaving the country at all and there are powerful lobbies against a pan-European cloud. For example, the 70 member Association for the Development of a Digital Economy in France has petitioned its government to keep the legislative status quo. The association wholeheartedly subscribes to the concept of cloud computing, but at a national - not EU - level.

Even perceived barriers to adoption are different across the EU. In a survey Colt conducted into attitudes towards deploying a cloud computing model, the responses varied widely among Chief Information Officers across Europe. The results showed that transparency of costs is the biggest concern to companies in Italy (62 percent), whereas their peers in France are relatively less concerned by regulatory and compliance issues (49 percent), but view performance/reliability (76 percent) of cloud services as their biggest concern.

One critical component of cloud computing which is seldom mentioned, and goes a long way to addressing concerns over the performance/reliability issues, is the role of the network.  As applications become virtualised and are transferred at will between data centres, more and more cloud implementations will require lower latency to continue to function. 

One method of solving this problem will be to use faster, more reliable networks which in turn help customers address questions around service levels. After all, how can any cloud service level agreement be worth anything if the performance and availability of the network is not an integral part of it?

With the availability of cloud servers and storage sizes growing at an exponential rate, the speed of the network really becomes the deciding factor when understanding the impact cloud computing can have on the way businesses function.

This has led to the opportunity to create a 'hybrid cloud'; an enterprise cloud model that takes a network-centric approach providing a best-fit between an in-house environment and a securely provided external infrastructure.

The path to cloud deployment is dependent on the current state of each organisation's IT, business objectives and priorities, and strategies for risk mitigation. Thus, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each journey has to be tailored to a particular customer's situation, working to assess, evaluate and determine the most appropriate path that accelerates the transformation and produces the highest business value to the organisation, while appropriately offsetting risks.

With the benefits of the cloud model now becoming more widely understood and business focused, it makes sense for every enterprise to consider formulating a new IT strategy. This should include; an analysis of which applications are best suited to cloud deployments; what should stay inside the corporate data centre and what should be considered for cloud implementation;  and for those items better suited to a flexible, scalable solution, what data centre strategy makes most sense.

Importantly, implementing the strategy should enable organisations to seamlessly extend to enterprise cloud services with flexibility, scalability, security and operational efficiency. This is where the promise of cloud computing comes to life.

The enterprise cloud model raises the bar and defines a whole new class of cloud computing services. The model sets a benchmark for cloud computing for enterprises and is the blueprint for European enterprises to now be taking its first steps to a cloud based future.

Posted by Steve Hughes, Principal cloud specialist, Colt

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