The issues which really concern CIOs and IT departments about the cloud are security, availability and flexibility.
When it comes to security, some businesses are wary of the implications of storing their data outside of their organisation and this is an explaination of why the public cloud has yet to really hit the business mainstream.
However, private clouds are no panacea either for IT organisations. The big concern is the way in which the technology is managed. In a virtualised environment, keeping IT services up and running becomes far more complex - it’s a lot harder to predict how a problem in one part of the system might impact everything else.
You need specialist skills in order to properly deliver private cloud services, so CIOs looking to deploy the technology need to consider how they are going to manage it. Hiring or training up new employees to have the in-house resource to do this effectively can prove costly, so they also need to decide if it may be more economical to outsource.
The cloud challenge doesn’t end there: if the underlying corporate network isn’t up to the job of delivering cloud services, all those investments in virtualisation technology might come to nothing.
Faster connections, governed by sophisticated end-to-end performance criteria and traffic prioritisation are crucial, but a lot of business networks don’t have these characteristics. Corporate networks built to absorb some application and web traffic will be no match for the sheer volume of traffic that clouds can generate.
There is a very real risk that increased use of the cloud impacts upon business uptime, and the costs of those network upgrades works against the savings brought about by the cloud.
The answer lies in what we call the ‘enterprise cloud’. In this approach, the IT and network infrastructure is owned and operated by a specialist network provider who assumes responsibility for both the availability of the applications and the performance of the network.
The infrastructure is effectively outsourced, though the data remains within the firewall, so management overheads and security risks are minimised.
The enterprise cloud approach allows organisations to benefit from sophisticated, telco-class network management to ensure full oversight of the infrastructure from end to end. This can ring-fence chunks of capacity for different purposes, so business-critical cloud services can continue to function, regardless of the demands placed on the network by other kinds of traffic.
One of those prime culprits is streamed video, and only a fully managed network can possibly keep up with the behaviour of employees in watching video over the network.
Network management means CIOs can set clear parameters, priorities for video, social media and other types of traffic, enabling free use when there is capacity, but critically ensuring that on a second by second basis the network will always perform.
With the correct network management in place, the more critical piece of traffic can take priority. This prevents any congestion which at best will slow down the applications that run a business, but can easily lead to complete application failure creating significant business downtime.
In other words, meeting the cloud challenge depends more than anything else on the managed network, hosting and communications services that specialist network providers alone offer.
Rather than looking at them as ‘dumb pipes’ for data, CIOs should regard their networks as intelligent pathways with multiple levels of security, the ability to prioritise some types of data over others, and the flexibility to wrap all of this into hard SLAs which provide reassurance for the business.
The cloud is going to become wider spread throughout 2011. It is clear why - IT as a service can bring many benefits including increased agility and the ability to achieve far more with much less. Investing in smart networking and managed services is an important business move for CIOs looking to take their organisations towards the cloud.
Posted by Justin Fielder, CTO Easynet Global Services