June 28, 2013

The cloud – central to the ‘digital enterprise’

Cloud computing, once considered a fad by some industry watchers, has confounded the skeptics and become a permanent feature on the IT landscape. Moreover, in recent years it has expanded in definition, becoming an umbrella term describing a variety of different computing concepts.

Today companies are trying different approaches to cloud computing, ranging from purely private (company-owned) to public clouds and hybrid strategies that attempt to combine the advantages of each.

The key benefit whether managed internally or by a third-party and hosted internally or externally, is recognized as its ability to pool and dynamically allocate IT resources across any number of business units, allowing services to be deployed quickly – and even scaled to meet growing needs.

Implementing virtualization demands a significant level of engagement to ‘virtualize’ the entire business environment. It thus requires organisations to re-evaluate decisions about existing resources and re-examine the health of their underlying network infrastructures.

In contrast where hosted services are usually limited to known number of people (staff and visitors) behind a firewall – the public cloud makes resources available over the Internet to an often undefined audience.Public vs. Private Cloud

Advantages include lower upfront costs as all the costly data center resources are held by a third party service provider and delivered to the user ‘as a service’. Service providers generally compete on price so it’s also possible to negotiate lower costs for on-going computing services.

Technically, there are very few differences between private and public cloud architectures with the exception that security considerations are often substantially more challenging when services as well as applications, storage and other resources are made available by a service provider for a public audience with communications effected over a public network.

Nevertheless, it’s becoming clear that there are significant benefits to be obtained from both architectures working in concert. Today, one of the most relevant aspects of the development is their convergence. The converged cloud – or hybrid  – represents an emerging technology that’s rapidly gaining traction in the marketplace as organisations use the public cloud for data storage and archiving but continue to maintain in-house, private cloud applications and infrastructures for operational activities.

It has been speculated that around 60% of all corporations will adopt hybrid cloud deployments by 2015 as the ‘digital enterprise’ initiative gains momentum.

Typically, a hybrid cloud infrastructure is the result of a partnership between the user and public cloud provider(s) in terms of which certain resources are provided – and managed – in-house and others are provided and managed externally.

Strictly speaking, a hybrid cloud is a composition of at least one private cloud and one or more public clouds. The private cloud element can be an on-premises cloud or a virtual private cloud, located remotely.

Importantly, the hybrid cloud approach allows an organisation to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness offered by a public cloud without exposing mission-critical applications and data to third-party vulnerabilities.

Because the hybrid cloud should deliver the advantages of public and private clouds in a seamless manner, it promotes the structuring of an agile business in which decisions are made more rapidly and where reactions to marketplace trends and developments are faster.

Of course, the key challenge facing organisations contemplating hybrid cloud computing is to provide this seamless operation across all platforms, including cloud application programming interfaces (APIs) and hypervisors or virtual machine managers (VMMs).

Is this possible, bearing in mind the complexity with which hybrid clouds are generally associated? The fact is, the legacy IT infrastructures within many organisations have changed over time to the point where they lack form and present hurdles which only specialists can overcome.

Therefore, before embarking on any cloud computing endeavor, organisations need to have their infrastructures audited in a bid to gain a clear view of the interdependencies of the different IT services within them.

Importantly, the critical element of the hybrid cloud model is having a robust, secure network acting as a high-performance buffer between the private and public clouds allowing applications and storage to migrate efficiently.

What’s required is a fully rationalized map of all the mutually dependent private and public cloud elements before they are deployed in a hybrid cloud. In this way users can gain the upper hand in terms of management and enjoy a smooth and trouble-free implementation.

When a hybrid cloud is strategically implemented, organizations can source applications by specific architecture, security requirements and usage to create the best mix of internal and external cloud environments to meet the needs of their application portfolio.

Although some barriers to certain hybrid approaches may remain, the majority are well within reach and gaining popularity among enterprises of all sizes.

 

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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