Cloud Computing; The Past, The Present, The Future (Part 1)

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Introduction

In this article we will cover the elements that a company needs to consider when evaluating a cloud service. Cloud solutions have matured and are not as new as they seem. I remember in 1999 when I was involved in building a fully hosted Microsoft environment for business’s and was faced with the obstacle of not having enough bandwidth in the market segment I was involved with at the time. This is a distant memory and bandwidth has become an available technology the world over. As the economy has taken a downturn and costs, budgets and jobs are being cut, more options have become available that weren’t properly considered in the time of boom.

Why is the cloud so cloudy?

There are so many interpretations of cloud that it is confusing to the consumer. There is true cloud, part cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud and many other such references. Not to forget SaaS or (Software as a Service) mostly delivered over the cloud or private cloud. In summary, the word “cloud” to me refers to something over an internet or public network. For this reason, more security is required and this has seen the rise of VPN type technology like SSL VPN and other remote working solutions i.e. Terminal services and Citrix.

The past

In the past barriers like bandwidth, perception, loss of control, trust and feasibility all played a role in reasons for not considering a cloud service. Today most of these challenges have been overcome, or countermeasures are in place to resolve the challenges. Faster bandwidth, virtualization and more particular skills around cloud type technologies enhance the offering.

The present

In the present the downturn is shifting business perception of the cloud service and many companies both big and small are seriously considering, if not subscribing, to cloud services.

Job cuts

Millions of jobs worldwide have been cut over the past year, this influx of people into unemployment is particularly important to consider if you form part of the security team for your organization. Was the employees’ account disabled? Was remote access revoked? Were all tokens disabled and handed in? Was the laptop returned and other such administrative policy related concerns taken into account? In a cloud service the centralization of security enables the security team to revoke access instantaneously.

More security is needed

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” was what the chief of cyber security advisor (UK) at Microsoft said. This translates to a response to the downturn in the economy some people might take more chances as their income is squeezed.

Pressure on staff

As a company grows, the IT infrastructure needs to show ROI (return on investment). The people paying the bills want to see efficiency and effectiveness of the solutions they pay so much money for. With resources already spread so thin it is difficult for the IT department to specialize in every single area and extract the full potential of the technology, especially those that are niche, like disk encryption, data loss prevention and other such like technical control areas that need consistent input and management. In these instances, cloud services make more sense and are often more cost effective and show more benefit. If a full analysis is performed most cloud services pay themselves off within the first 12 months and cost less to run in the long term. The real crunch is if the cloud solution is suited for your type of organization.  

Benefits of Cloud solution

There are many benefits to a cloud solution, but these need to be weighed and understood before opting for a solution that is partially out of the IT departments control. Below we will cover some of the benefits, components and countermeasures that need to be understood before opting in.

Greener: Cloud solutions tend to be greener, as some of the infrastructure is co hosted and shared, some of the applications and solutions are fully virtualized and other design changes make the whole offering more efficient and thus greener. In the UK, if an enterprise hosts a typical exchange server, the electrical costs usually add up to over 500 GBP per year. A collocated server with similar specification and computing power would cost less than half this in the cloud. Then there is the question of licensing. Typical vendor licensing cost can vary based on size of enterprise. In most cases, service providers have cumulative packages that make the full cloud subscription cheaper for the consumer as the service providers have better deals with vendors. In turn, the cloud delivered solution is much cheaper from a hosting and licensing perspective. The skills are also cumulative so the customer benefits from enhanced expert skill.

Most managed services are looked after by dedicated teams per solution. This means that the solution is built by specialists that focus on the particular technology. The outcome is that the offering is more streamlined and a service runs within the best practice guidelines of the vendor and industry. This would be markedly different compared to “home” or internally built enterprise solutions that cannot emulate the level of a cloud service.

Centralized: The centralized yet potentially decentralized management solution. This fully scalable and flexible cloud solution offers something that is difficult to achieve for most large enterprises. Compared to locally hosted applications a cloud solution would offer company flexibility and reach that any global business would envy. This is very compelling, and on many occasions, this feature can be the sole reason for an organization to move into the cloud.  

Affordable: One of the important considerations to a cloud service is cost. Imagine having to pay for all the cell phone towers used every time you wanted to buy a mobile phone. This would mean that to use the infrastructure, an individual or enterprise would have to pay for the towers, the connectivity between them and all the other elements of the solution. This would make the cost prohibitive and most organizations would not consider this solution; however this is exactly what happened in the beginning of the cell phone service 15 years ago, and how the offering was funded. Today, the cost of mobile telephony has dropped and become affordable. Evidently, people now subscribe without a second thought and this is a fully managed, wireless “cloud” type service funded by subscription and the numbers.  

Security

Security is always a concern, especially when running environments like windows that are so familiar the world over. Microsoft has a reasonable patch management solution but now in the cloud this effectively can be delivered in minutes rather than days.

In many cases, some organizations have the view that cloud solutions outsourcing and managed services are less secure. What the company is failing to recognize is that they are probably already using such services without consideration. Services like Blackberry, Messagelabs and other such services involve messages being sent to a third party, scanned then forwarded back into the organizations localized mail stream. This would undoubtedly change most people’s perspective as a well run cloud solution far outweighs the perception of insecurity and loss of control. In fact, in many cases the solution is to build better hardware, firmer controls and more efficient infrastructure at a lower cost.

The future

In the future, more cloud adoption is certain, this year alone the move to the cloud by many business has been phenomenal, so much so that some cloud business have grown by over 200%. Large vendors see this as the growing model for software and services in the future so more focus by the vendors is afforded. Do not be surprised if the cloud bursts with offerings over the next 24 months.

Summary

No matter what your organizational requirements are, you might find that cloud services make sense. If not a complete switch to a cloud service, possibly a partial hybrid switch might work. This is what Microsoft sees as the way forward, and thus, they have built their cloud solutions based on hybrid type offerings.

In the next article in this series, we will cover barriers and reasons that cloud services may not make sense for your organization.

If you would like to be notified of when Ricky Magalhaes releases the next part in this article series please sign up to our WindowSecurity.com Real Time Article Update newsletter.

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