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Costas Galonis, Cirrus Stratus: The Pros and Cons of Cloud Computing

December 2011 by Costas Galonis, Chief Technical Officer of Cirrus Stratus

Costas Galonis, Chief Technical Officer of Cirrus Stratus, says that Cloud computing offers so many advantages for businesses that it will actually outlive and outgrow the hype that surrounds it.

When you talk to a bona fide Cloud supplier they talk in the straight-forward, clear and non-technical way about the business benefits of Cloud computing. However, in the same way that two hundred jumbo jets landing safely at Heathrow is not news but one jumbo jet crashing is news, Cloud makes the headlines when it fails and for those who over-complicate it.

Cloud computing provides organisations with an alternative way of obtaining IT services and offers many benefits including increased flexibility as well as cost reduction. However many organisations are reluctant to adopt the Cloud because of concerns over information security and a loss of control over the way IT service is delivered. These fears have been exacerbated by recent events reported in the press including outages by Amazon and the 3 day loss of Blackberry services from RIM. So what approach can an organisation take to ensure that the benefits of the Cloud outweigh the risks?

Before we de-mystify Cloud computing let’s define it.

Different people interpret cloud computing differently so let’s settle on the National Institute of Standards and Technology(NIST SP800-145) definition as the best one: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of

* Five essential characteristics (on demand self service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity, measured service),

* Three service models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS), and

* Four deployment models (public, private, hybrid, community).”

* Measured service (cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging a metering capability. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported to provide transparency).

What makes Cloud computing so compelling to those who use it?

• Confidentiality— Cloud computing solutions provide powerful authentication and authorization layers. Ironically, since these solutions are used by lots of different organisations the cloud solutions are more secure. The applications which are developed by a company on top of the infrastructure or platform remain the responsibility of the company.

• Privacy- Cloud computing solutions provide good protection for sensitive information

• Integrity—Cloud computing solutions provide similar protection of integer data.

• Availability—Cloud computing suppliers produce the infrastructure and bandwidth to give companies real high speed access, storage and applications. All organisations should still ensure that they have made arrangements for outages. Cloud computing even allows more reliable backup and recovery.

• Resiliency—Cloud providers have disaster recovery equipment to ensure that you will survive untouched by any type of negative event.

• Compliance—Every company has to comply with a huge range of laws, regulations and standards. If data is demanded by the authorities, cloud computing service providers can provide this without compromising any other information.

• Licensing—Cloud computing allows companies to only use those licenses needed at a specific point in time removing any concerns about using illegal software.

• Reliability—Cloud computing provides solutions where people are.

• Transparency—Cloud computing service providers can demonstrate the existence of effective and robust security controls, assuring companies their information is properly secured against unauthorized access, change and destruction.

• Monitoring—Measurable and transparent monitoring is provided by default by solution providers to companies.

• Integration—Cloud computing solutions provide the missing links to integrate with existing internal solutions.

• Network centric—Cloud computing solutions are, by default, offered via the network.

• Certification—Cloud computing service providers can provide proper assurance that they are doing the “right” things. Independent assurance from third-party audits and/or service auditor reports is a vital part of any service provider assurance program.

What Added-value will you get from cloud computing:

Cloud computing offers organisations the ability to scale without large financial commitments upfront for infrastructure acquisition and maintenance. Capital expenditure with cloud computing is much lower since services and storage are available on demand and are priced as a pay-as-you-go service. Capital expenditure is largely replaced with operational expenditure. Savings on unused server space and licenses also allow companies to contain costs.

Cloud provides on-demand convenience which is a core added value for many companies since they can unilaterally provision computing capabilities as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with cloud services providers. Cloud services offer both increased flexibility and scalability for the evolving IT needs of companies, allowing for traffic spikes and reducing the time to implement new services whilst increasing innovation.

Companies can also focus on their core business, rather than be concerned about solving peak business demands for performance. One of the major added value impacts of cloud computing is that the business is back in control over its solutions. Business departments can find their own solutions online and decide themselves if they go ahead or not without the intervention of others.

Cloud services allow organisations to better use existing infrastructures and increase productivity and transform business processes using methods that were prohibitively expensive before the cloud.

Cloud computing allows business departments to detach their IT needs from their infrastructure and allows data to be stored in a centralised easily accessible manner which the user finds easier. Of course, virtualization has made it impossible to physically pinpoint the exact physical disc where data is stored.

Instead of extensive discussions, analysis and lots of people involved in developing and testing applications and data solutions, business units are able to activate and use practical solutions in days. This has a fundamental impact on the agility of a business and the reduction of costs associated with time delays. One of the cornerstones of cloud computing is that it can automatically control and optimise resource use by leveraging a metering capability appropriate to the type of service. Resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported providing transparency for both the provider and company of the used service.

Another added value of cloud computing is less energy usage and using existing energy at the cloud computing service provider, which might have different locations and choose where energy is cheapest to buy. Re-allocating IT operational activities to cloud computing offers companies the opportunity to focus on innovation and research and development. This allows for growth.

The key premise of the cloud is that by outsourcing portions of information management and IT operations, enterprise workers will be free to improve processes, increase productivity and innovate while the cloud provider handles operational activity smarter, faster and cheaper. Assuming this to be the case, significant changes to the existing business processes will likely be required to take advantage of the opportunities that cloud services offer.

When moving to the Cloud it is important that the business requirements for the move are understood and that the Cloud service is selected meets these needs. Taking a good governance approach, such as COBIT1, is the key to safely embracing the Cloud and the benefits that it provides without fear and with many advantages as I hope I have demonstrated.

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