Cloud computing

Executive summary

The facts about cloud computing are understood by two-thirds of large enterprises, leaving one third unsure of the benefits of one of the most significant changes in the IT landscape. For many enterprises, a private cloud should be the closest match to their goals, but the journey to the cloud is a step-by-step one that begins with virtualisation and ends with moving mission-critical applications into the cloud. However, many enterprises fall at the hurdle of security, while others see applications as a natural fit, but are less sure about their hardware infrastructure.

Such a journey requires expert advice and testing to ensure both the closest fit with the enterprise, and the maximum advantages overall in terms of efficiency and scalability.

The need for a cloud strategy

Chief information officers (CIOs), IT managers and data centre management teams need to have a top-to-toe understanding of both their internal systems and their internal processes to demonstrate that they can operate strategically for the business instead of merely servicing IT systems.

Increasingly, skilled IT strategists are exploring the potential benefits of cloud computing and virtualisation, such as virtualisation of storage and the data centre alongside managed services in the cloud. Many enterprises recognise that ‘cloud computing’ – software, infrastructure and platform delivered as on-demand services
– can offer strategic advantages in terms of scalability and cost effectiveness, so that systems can scale dynamically to accommodate spikes in demand rather than be built for usage scenarios that rarely arise.

However, an exclusive survey by Computing of over 200 senior IT strategists within large organisations reveals that while just under two-thirds (63%) of IT experts correctly understand the term ‘cloud computing’, the rest do not (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: “What do you understand about the term ‘cloud computing’?”

Four percent of all respondents answered that they believed it was synonymous with the internet, while seven percent admitted that they were “not sure” of the definition. The rest singled out infrastructure on demand (15%), software as a service (SaaS, nine percent) and platform as a service (PaaS, three percent) (Fig. 2).

The findings suggest that the term ‘cloud computing’ has been hijacked by different sectors of the IT industry, with the result that the message about its overall
benefits has been lost to some extent in the noise and hype.

Fig. 2: “Do you understand the difference between public and private cloud computing?”

Having access to cloud computing services, platform and infrastructure on demand creates more of a level playing field for smaller and medium-sized enterprises, with the benefit of on-demand access to a world-class infrastructure that can scale with corporate ambition.

Many IT strategists recognise that there are further advantages in freeing up the IT department to operate proactively and strategically rather than passively and reactively – not to mention in switching IT financing from tranches of capital outlay to a predictable rental model within operational expenditure.

However, within the IT department culture and skills need to change as enterprises begin their journey into the cloud, becoming more strategically aligned with business goals. This is particularly true as the enterprise moves beyond its first tentative steps into the cloud, and deeper into moving mission-critical applications and services there.

The core question

As enterprises move deeper into the cloud, they can decide what is core to the successful and ongoing operation of the business, and what can be better run as a managed service whenever and however the need arises. IT leaders can then set aside day-to-day systems maintenance, some of which is rooted in legacy systems and legacy processes.

The day-to-day management of IT then becomes a question of managing SLAs and KPIs rather than maintaining hardware and securing the back door. In other words, the cloud aligns IT more closely with business goals and raises the profile of the IT department. This is the principal advantage of the cloud model.

Virtualisation of servers, applications, desktops, storage and other components of the enterprise infrastructure can be a core component of that shift: the first significant step on the journey. A recent trend within cloud computing has been away from the use of appliances and towards increased virtualisation: an architecture built on an enterprise data centre coupled with cloud services.

Local servers are leading the charge, with 61% of IT strategists questioned saying that these had already been virtualised, according to the Computing survey (Fig. 3). Forty-four percent of organisations have virtualised non-mission-critical production applications, while a similar percentage (43%) have virtualised some of their testing arena – an interesting contrast with the three percent of enterprises that consider platform as a service to be a component of cloud computing (Fig. 1).

Fig. 3: “Which of the following have you virtualised?”

Storage is the next largest component of those systems that have already been virtualised, cited by 38% of enterprises in the survey. Web-based services and desktops follow, with 29% and 27% of organisations, respectively. Mission critical- applications bring up the rear, with virtualisation having taken place in just 21% of all enterprises. Eighteen percent of large enterprises have virtualised nothing: a significant minority.

Despite what a minority of IT experts appear to believe, there is no ‘single’ cloud (the internet), but instead there are numerous clouds of remote hardware and managed services running on them, which can either be configured and customised for each user, or be used ‘as is’ as part of a ‘vanilla’ service.

Private versus public

The cloud may be public or private – hosted for one company’s use, often behind the company’s own firewall, if not on the organisation’s own premises. Sixty-three percent of IT strategists say they understand the distinction, which means that 37% are either not sure or do not understand the difference between the public and private cloud. Just 11% say they are set on using public cloud infrastructure and services (Fig. 4).

Sixty-three percent of respondents say they are not sure if they have or plan to develop a private cloud strategy, suggesting that if the distinction is understood by a majority of large enterprises, the benefits of it are not yet clear to all.

Fig. 4: “Do you have a private cloud strategy?”

“If yes, why private cloud rather than public cloud infrastructure?”

Twenty-six percent say they are moving towards a private cloud. Of this group, 47% say they believe it is inherently more secure than other solutions, compared with the 62% of all respondents saying that they need their mission-critical infrastructure to be where they can see it and manage it directly (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: “Do you consider any form of cloud-based computing to be more or less secure for mission-critical applications”

This desire for a hands-on approach is a potential obstacle to any move into the cloud; however, the formation of a private cloud around the specific needs of the enterprise may offer the best of both worlds for those enterprises for whom a close match between brand and network are essential.

Of those enterprises that already have a private cloud strategy, just 27% and 24%, respectively, argue that they need a bespoke infrastructure tailored to their specific needs, or that offers a closer cultural fit, suggesting that the closeness of the fit is less important to most businesses than the overall operational advantages (Fig. 4).

For many enterprises, the private cloud should be attractive for a number of reasons. For example, the comfort of having a bespoke solution, not to mention increased data security, an infrastructure that can more closely model internal processes, and the familiar advantages for most IT departments of managing the system themselves.

Beyond the first steps of virtualisation, many enterprises are moving deeper into the cloud, with responses to the Computing survey suggesting that ‘the cloud’ is a strategic aim on the applications side of their IT infrastructure: 43% aim to move basic processing into the cloud, for example (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Steps on the journey to the cloud

“Do you plan to have cloud-based storage?”

“Do you plan to move edge environments, such as PCs, to the cloud?”

“Do you plan to move basic processing and tasks into the cloud?”

“Do you plan to move mission-critical applications into the cloud?”

At present, eight percent of enterprises have already moved their mission-critical applications into the cloud. A majority of all respondents, 56%, said they plan to move mission critical applications into the cloud at some point in the future. Of the 20% of enterprises that do not believe such a move would be appropriate, security and company policy were the main objections (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: “Do you consider any form of cloud-based computing to be more or less secure for mission-critical applications?”

Asked specifically about cloud computing and security, 62% of IT strategists said they preferred their mission critical infrastructure to be where they can see it and manage it. Fewer than one-third said they believed cloud security was equal to on-premise security, with only seven percent saying that managed services providers know more about security than enterprises do. So security remains the major challenge in terms of business culture and attitudes.

That said, over one-third of all respondents (35%) said that they assumed they can just continue as before in terms of security management when the switch over to the cloud has taken place, with a further 25% saying they would need expert advice (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: “Have you considered how to ensure business continuity, security and disaster recovery in the cloud?”

Storage, together with edge environments such as local PCs, are also areas of uncertainty for IT strategists, the survey found, with a majority falling into the “not sure”, “uncertain of the benefits” and “may do so in future” camps (Fig. 6).

A private cloud promises increased agility and competitiveness, and reduced complexity. Ideally, the private cloud should be automated as far as possible to run seamlessly beneath the enterprise. That means working with a trusted name in business security and availability, on whose expertise and consultancy the enterprise can rely on in the same way it can its hosted IT systems.

So the goal for many enterprises now is a virtual private infrastructure. Larger enterprises are beginning to use internal private cloud computing to cut costs and manage enterprise data storage more efficiently.

In terms of storage, for example, internal cloud computing can be managed within datacentres, while the infrastructure itself is owned by the organisation. Cloud- based storage can also offer an easier route to achieving consolidation, virtualisation and standardisation.

That said, any journey to the cloud has to begin on premise. Organisations need to rationalise their business needs and priorities, their business applications and their on-premise data first. For many enterprises, the challenge is how to integrate managed and hosted services with their on-premise infrastructure and take an holistic view of overall management – and security.

Fig. 9: “Do you believe you have the in-house skills to manage the transfer to a private cloud?”

So do organisations have the requisite skills? The Computing survey found a four- way split on this most searching question: 27% said they had an experienced team with all of the necessary skills; 28% said they would see and learn from experience; 26% said they had most of the skills and would cope, and 20% accepted they would need expert advice (Fig. 9).

Set against the 61% of enterprises saying that security is something better managed in house, and the 35% of all respondents saying they assumed things would carry on as a before in terms of their security policy, the reality is that more enterprises need expert advice than they believe.

Soft Solutions Limited partners with Microsoft in Nigeria. Microsoft, the biggest software company in the world, dominates the operating systems market. With them SSL offers our clients implementation and professional services around new products like Forefront, SCCM (System Center Configuration Management), Navision etc.
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