BY JULIAN BOX
The current economic climate has seen the need for organisations across all sectors to identify cost savings strategies. The term ‘virtualisation’ and the concept of ‘cloud computing’ have been long discussed as cost-saving and business continuity solutions. However, before an organisation considers deploying a virtual environment and eventually utilising the cloud, it is important for companies to understand how this will fit into their overall business objectives.
Improving operational efficiency will yield cost savings as many organisations are still stuck with the inefficient model of utilising both physical only or a hybrid of physical and virtual infrastructure. These types of environments are expensive to purchase and maintain, especially when adding on power and cooling costs in server rooms or data centres. While virtual infrastructure brings about significant cost and resource savings, it also brings challenges and a shift in operations to deliver the ultimate benefits. Cloud computing is the evolution of this shift. It answers many virtualisation issues by offloading management of virtual infrastructure by moving into ‘the cloud’. Put simply, the cloud is a fully-developed virtual data centre, supported by infrastructure services companies that have the expertise and resources to manage companies’ virtual infrastructure efficiently and securely. As a result, companies reap the benefits: lower total cost of ownership whilst capitalising on the advantage of higher availability, enhanced scalability and massive flexibility.
But how can companies prepare themselves for the move to the cloud? Moving corporate data to the cloud is not a tactical decision; it instead requires a business transformation. Companies first need to fully understand what they are trying to achieve and determine how (and if) their objectives can be assisted by developing a cloud strategy. This critical step is made possible by working with consultants who can analyse infrastructure, determine project benefits and map out the strategy to ensure the solution meets aspirations. Only then can the mobilisation and transitioning services be put into place.
As the cloud is often a multi-tenanted environment one of the major concerns organisations have is whether the data they store in the cloud will be secure. The first thing that these companies should do is to determine whether they do feel comfortable with their virtual data centre being housed in a multi-tenanted environment, where infrastructure is shared (though shared securely). If so, they should review the cloud providers’ access policy to ensure that the information in the companies’ virtual data centre is secure. There should be no overlap in access from one virtual data centre to the next, which can be achieved by implementing security technology and policies to ensure data moves securely from the moment it enters the data centre.
An additional level of security providers can deliver is the ability to audit access to information. This level of security separates private enterprise clouds from public clouds, in which computing resources can be quickly purchased with a credit card. Providers of private enterprise clouds will be conservative about sharing security information, but when companies engage with these providers they can more thoroughly outline their security best practices.
By moving data off-premises into the cloud for disaster recovery purposes, companies can also protect their data from natural disasters. Cloud computing vendors have the resources necessary to offer space in geographically dispersed data centres and the expertise to enable real-time replication. Companies that demand a 100 percent up-time, full redundancy and security of their data should seriously consider the use of virtual infrastructure for disaster recovery, regardless whether the virtual machines are on premises or off premises in a cloud environment.
The business benefits are clear, but as organisations continue to struggle with the concept themselves, they have little chance of fully realising them. Many organisations are looking to bring in partners that have the vision to understand the possibilities of cloud computing and the experience to deliver these benefits. Without this expertise cloud computing will remain a mystery to many companies and as a result they will not be able to harness its full potential.
Julian Box is Chief Technology Officer for Virtustream