June 28, 2011

Cloud Computing in the Enterprise

The concept of cloud computing has often been questioned by organisations for one key reason: doubtful security. While it is seen as an outsourcing model capable of driving innovation, some have said it doesn’t meet their standards for how passwords are assigned, protected and changed. Others are uneasy because cloud hosts could access their sensitive data.

While most of these concerns have been addressed, some corporations and government agencies will always remain uncomfortable because commercial outsourced or hosted cloud services often bypass the physical, logical and personnel security controls of traditional in-house systems and services.

However, with the introduction of enterprise or private computing models, these fears are proving to be groundless. How does this brand of cloud computing compare with the generic version, more commonly referred to as ‘public cloud’ computing?

The enterprise cloud is, in effect, a highly virtualised collection of network, storage and server resources. It focuses on the behind-the-firewalls use of the same Internet-based technologies as found in the public cloud. The key difference is these services address only one organisation’s computing needs and are not supplied, via hosts, to other customers.

The watchword is ‘control’. In the enterprise environment, cloud computing is carefully regulated. Sensitive data is most likely to be kept in private repositories, protected by encryption, physical security and regular operational audits.

Nonetheless, the environment still offers all of the advantages and benefits of the public cloud, including rapid provisioning of computing power, data storage and archiving and software as a service.

As an IT model, enterprise cloud computing has helped the technology become one of the hottest topics in the IT industry, gaining popularity with companies of all sizes – from start-ups to large corporates.

This is because it is able to meet an increasing number of corporate demands, the majority of which have come in the wake of the economic downturn. In addition to high levels of security, they include a reduction in the cost of software, making application purchases easier and cheaper and minimising complexity.

Cloud computing has finally realised its potential “to completely upend IT as we know it”, says James Staten, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

A key endorsement of enterprise cloud computing – particularly from a security perspective – comes from no less an organisation than the National Reconnaissance Office, one of 16 US intelligence agencies linked to the CIA. This one operates spy satellites for the US government.

In a published article, chief information officer Jill Tummler Singer says the spy agency is adopting enterprise cloud computing “in a big way, based on its belief that cloud technology makes IT environments more flexible and secure when kept within a firewall.”

In the online WebSphere Journal she goes on to say that enterprise cloud computing “combines the processes of a best-in-class ITIL [IT Infrastructure Library] organisation with the agility of a managed, global infrastructure to make your IT faster, better, cheaper and safer…. [giving] your business agility, survivability, sustainability and security”.

Does this sound the death knell for the public cloud? By no means. I believe there will be room for both in the marketplace. Over time most enterprises will adopt a mix-and-match approach to cloud computing, relying on the ‘commercial’ cloud for some services and taking others on board – into the enterprise cloud – as they see fit.

The challenge, going forward, will be linked to the quality and quantity of support afforded corporate decision-makers by cloud computing specialists.

There is no doubt that businesses are looking for better ways to source IT services, avoid upfront capital expenditure and obviate complex deployment projects that often extend from months into years.

They want IT costs to more accurately mirror IT consumption. And they need solutions that will yield certain, guaranteed results in this regard.

In future, cloud computing specialists will be measured on their abilities to design dynamic and flexible IT delivery models that measure up to the standards set by the likes of the National Reconnaissance Office and their local counterparts who expect improved corporate agility and sustainability from their IT solutions – which should also be capable of meeting rapidly changing business goals and objectives.

Are we up to the task?

About The Contributor:
Martin MayRegional Director, Africa

Martin came to South Africa in 1992, relocated by Cabletron Systems to begin operations in Africa. May has driven Extreme Networks forward in Africa and is a leading advisor in the areas of infrastructure security utilizing technologies such as NAC, IDS/IPS and network-based security.

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