“Cloud computing” was the buzz word in 2010 and turned into the megatrend of the year in 2011. Apparently the cloud is about to change the way IT is being done - not over night but over time. I got a hold of an interesting paper called "Cloud computing for Dummies" to find out that the cloud is not complicated at all. The principle is as simple as leasing a company car.
It is all about renting IT services from somebody with real expertise on that matter. In my opinion this concept hits the mark especially in small and midsize businesses that have more important things than IT to take care of: competition, customer requests, business ideas and resource constraints.
This is why cloud computing sounds particularly interesting for SMBs with limited IT staff and budget. You rent the service, focus on the business and you have no financial surprises because you just pay your monthly fee. Even better: SMBs will have the opportunity to deploy IT functions that were previously “reserved” to enterprise companies with elaborate data centers.
So what does cloud computing mean for your network?
Seamless access to business-critical applications is a must today. Network connectivity with high availability and sufficient bandwidth is increasingly important to ensure business continuity without any interruption. This paradigm remains the same in the cloud - it even extends to the wide area network (WAN) connection. With your IT services being hosted outside your business you need a reliable WAN with enough bandwidth. You also need to maximize what you get out of the WAN connection with traffic prioritization and WAN acceleration.
You can accept delays if your accounting system is hosted by an outside service provider. But once your order systems or even your IP telephony depend on your cloud connection you will want to make sure there are no bottlenecks.
Cloud means integration.
The general view is that companies’ IT infrastructures will be “partly cloudy” in the short term. There is no expectation of replacing the existing IT immediately. Instead, companies will start to deploy single services from the cloud and add them to their overall IT portfolios, and they will run it all on the existing infrastructure. My assumption is that you are well off when your network deploys common industry standards, rather than proprietary technology, because the cloud services will be offered based on standardized platforms.
Providing cloud services is not necessarily confined to software (software as a service). Parts of your IT environment - or even the complete infrastructure - can be offered by the providers as well. The challenge then becomes one of integration of cloud services with your existing IT infrastructure.
Protecting your IT assets
Security is a key challenge in IT today and cloud is not going to change this issue. On the one hand we have to say that cloud service providers have a better expertise in security technologies than SMB companies and therefore will be able to provide a value-add. This is mostly true.
On the other hand you will have to evaluate carefully the cloud services to make sure your own data is safe and regulatory compliant. Cloud providers may have a nice backup option, but will they be liable if the data gets lost? In which part of the world is the data stored and who has got access?
These considerations are some of the most important obstacles for companies seeking to deploy cloud services today - despite the obvious advantages. Therefore your IT managers must still examine cloud services with scrutiny and at the same time ensure that network access is secure. They must be sure they can protect the network from threats outside and inside the network. However you shouldn’t assume that the cloud is less secure than your own organization. Cloud services vendors often have to implement multiple layers of security to protect your data, whereas your own employees may easily take copies of your data out with them on laptops or smart-phones, which can all to easily be lost or stolen.
Firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), threat management and an intrusion prevention system (IPS) are more important than ever. Looking at the growing amount of mobile devices, the importance of identity-driven management (IDM) becomes evident as well.
Regardless of whether you deploy your own data center or use cloud services, secure and reliable network connectivity is the foundation to make it happen. To get a flavor on how this can be accomplished, have a look at the HP end-to-end network solution for mid-market customers. Or check out any of these resources:
HP SMB Solutions Blog: Cloud security: Risk or myth?
HP SMB Solutions Blog: Cloud by another name
HP Business Service Automation Blog: Deploying Services to the Private Cloud