The effective use of cloud computing has become obscured by hype and it is critical that we clear this confusion to enable organisations to benefit from the cloud, which will undoubtedly create a shift in the way IT people think, consume and operate.
Cloud computing confusion
Much of the confusion stems from multiple definitions that arise from the sheer flexibility of cloud computing. An IT cloud can be public, private or a hybrid; serve one organisation or millions; be managed by an external provider, internal IT department or selected sourcing; and supply storage capacity, software functionality or server processing power. As cloud maturity progresses, coexistence will drive further hybrid models alongside traditionally hosted environments, providing unparalleled choices for sourcing IT.
In a cloud environment, organisations or individual businesses rent IT infrastructure elements and services such as desktops and servers as well as core business functionality such as email and software applications. Most providers offer an hourly price for server infrastructure, which means there is minimal capital outlay at the outset of an investment. This also means that total cost of ownership is reduced, as the pay-for-use model eliminates the lifetime cost of acquiring, operating and updating technology.
Virtualisation is the way forward
According to IDC, for the first time this year, IT departments in Western Europe deployed more virtual machines than physical servers, which means the majority of organisations are in a good position to capitalise on cloud computing. For those that aren't, it is worth considering how consolidating physical boxes through virtualisation will provide a more effective technology platform to move to the cloud, in addition to the cost and space-saving benefits virtualisation offers. It is evident that as virtualised services rapidly mature, the economies of scale extend beyond the traditional boundaries of the organisation, which is, in part, where value is derived from cloud computing.
When considering moving information to a public cloud in a hosted data centre environment, it is important to understand that security standards and service levels have yet to be established and underpinned by experience and legal precedents. By their very nature, large-scale public clouds are anonymous and will often involve multiple data centres in diverse locations around the world. As a result, you may never know where your data is physically housed. This means your business systems and data could be subject to the different legislation of multiple countries. A further consideration is who is responsible for security compliance and how it's delivered, specifically auditing data rights management whilst auditing access and ownership.
You don't have to move everything
In reality it is not possible to move all applications and storage to the cloud -- some workloads are better suited to this environment, depending on which performance parameters those services have to meet, the service levels the business requires, data interchanges and existing compliance requirements. For example, an enterprise email system housed on a public cloud infrastructure will probably need to integrate with internal systems, such as ERP, to enable key processes, such as automated workflows.
New applications and non-mission-critical workloads are the ones organisations are most often happy to access from a cloud service provider, while legacy applications and workloads with exacting performance, security or compliance needs are typically retained in-house. Even then, organisations still want the same flexible IT delivery options that cloud service providers offer. This is when building a private cloud becomes the preferred option.
With so many interdependencies and potential risks, it is important to work with an experienced provider that understands each different delivery model and how it will impact users, customers, business processes and, ultimately, total cost of ownership.
Colin Bradford is the Director of Customer Architectures at corporate reseller Computacenter and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk