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Agile Computing: Article

Taking the Fear Factor Out of Cloud Computing

As more and more organizations adopt the cloud, new areas of concern must be mitigated

Cloud computing is the next wave of information technology.

It's allowing organizations to free themselves from building and managing their own technology infrastructure and is changing how businesses operate. It touches everything from the software running desktop computers to complex business processes and foundational IT infrastructure.

The cloud has provided dramatic gains in efficiency and productivity. It has pervaded blogs, industry conferences and the minds of CIOs with its promise of adaptability, cost benefits and agility, but despite its advantages, some are still hesitant to get onboard due to its inherent risks. While some simply aren't ready to take a leap of faith, they're putting themselves at another kind of risk: losing ground to competitors that are taking the risk, and becoming more agile and flexible as a result.

Contracts and assurances only seem to go so far when there's an underlying concern of trust:

  • Will processes continue to function?
  • Will data be protected and be kept confidential?

These hurdles lie in the way before the cloud becomes a widely accepted paradigm for computing, but nevertheless, it is fast becoming a dynamic force in business. In fact, marketing firm Gartner, Inc. predicts that the cloud computing market will reach $150.1 billion by 20131. With the right approach, cloud-based services can improve performance and create a competitive edge for forward-thinking businesses.

Make the Cloud Work for You
It's easy to see why business leaders view the cloud as the next big thing in IT, document management and business process outsourcing. It enables companies to add IT capabilities or capacity when they need it - without investing in a new infrastructure. A flexible, on-demand model can bring new agility to information technology, enabling IT to better align with business objectives and shift its focus from operations to innovation. It also helps businesses make the most of their documents and workflows. Specifically, these benefits include:

  • Economies of scale: When you take advantage of a centralized infrastructure that supports multiple clients, you get an economy of scale that you simply can't achieve on your own. That's why cloud computing is the most cost-effective approach to enterprise computing.
  • Unlimited storage and processing power: The cloud is a bottomless source of storage capacity, which means businesses don't have to expand a data center or add servers to a network. Similarly, it houses vast computational power, so there's no need to add more CPUs to an in-house IT infrastructure. In addition to costs, this helps companies reduce the need for overall energy consumption.
  • Flexibility and scalability: Because there is no infrastructure to manage and maintain for the cloud, and businesses only pay for what they use, there is a huge advantage in flexibility. Instead of investing in permanent resources that may not be needed in the future, businesses can just tap into the cloud for immediate needs.
  • Benchmark technology and best practices: Leading providers of cloud services are able to provide innovative technology and current best practices thanks to size and resources, and businesses reap the benefits.
  • Streamlined implementations: The cloud is an efficient platform for service delivery and provides great cost effectiveness, better quality, and faster cycle times for development and implementation processes.
  • Improved access to information: As more data and documents move to the cloud, the platform becomes a key resource for knowledge workers to share information, create and revise documents and collaborate in real-time.
  • A sensible solution for a mobile workforce: With cloud-enabled access to technological resources, documents and data, it's easy for employees to work at home and on the road. As a result, the cloud can improve the productivity of an increasingly mobile workforce, facilitate the growing number of work-at-home programs, and help companies attract and retain talented employees who want more flexible work options.

Roadblocks to Cloud Adoption
Despite all of these advantages, however, many organizations are delaying the decision to tap into the cloud. Optimism about productivity and innovation is tempered by concerns about data and system security, the maintenance of privacy for people and organizations, and the possibility of being locked into one provider. Like any new technology, cloud computing has the potential to create disruption and risks in these areas. The simple fact that it involves the aggregation of computing power and information understandably gives rise to concern. When considering cloud for your organization, you need to first question its implications, including:

  • What are the current benefits of cloud computing and what could the future bring?
  • What could derail its progress?
  • Are the benefits worth the risk?

One aspect of these concerns centers on security. Putting confidential records in public clouds increases the risk that unauthorized people can gain access to sensitive information. When organizations store their data with programs hosted by a provider, they lose some of control over their sensitive information. The responsibility for protecting that information from data breaches by unauthorized parties then falls into the hands of the provider rather than the organization. In many cases, however, this concern can be resolved through private clouds. Information security is an issue with any shared environment, but private clouds developed and maintained by a leading provider ensure that information may be more secure than if it's stored inside a firewall. Leading providers of private cloud services typically operate security systems that are multilayered and more robust and effective than organizations can create on their own. In fact, they have to provide state-of-the-art security to stay in business. As a result, they often set the standard for information security today.

In addition to security and privacy concerns, cloud computing gives rise to apprehension about being locked in by a vendor. Proprietary architectures or unique data models could potentially make it difficult to switch vendors and move into or out of a cloud vendor. In addition, if the provider goes out of business, there's a question of what happens to the organization's data it holds. Before jumping into the cloud, an organization should consider whether their vendor has standardized processes, proven service delivery methodologies, and transparent governance.

Who Can You Trust?
Since cloud computing is a form of outsourcing, all of the key issues from information security and privacy to service quality and reliability ultimately come down to one thing: the choice of someone you trust. It's imperative to find the right partner when making the transition from a physical data center to cloud computing. Why trust another company to provide your company's cloud services in the first place? Due to their scale, long history and extensive expertise, private cloud providers typically create security and disaster recovery systems that are substantially more effective and advanced than a business could create on their own. When looking for a provider, businesses should choose one that offers ROI analysis identifying which applications would provide the best returns when migrated to a cloud environment, an implementation plan, an explanation of how the plan aligns with business strategy, and guidelines for deployment. You'll also want one whose offering aligns with the following principles:

  • Security measures should be designed to support the business, not impede it.
  • The system should approach defense from a multiple-layer standpoint spread throughout the expanse of the IT infrastructure.
  • The security design should be flexible enough to adapt to changing business situations and evolving technology.
  • The use of standards is essential to prevent misunderstandings and provide the agility needed to respond quickly to risks.

Risk management, particularly in the cloud, is never a simple, in-and-out process. Businesses continually change, as does the environment around them. A vigilant service provider has to constantly stay aware of what's going on, recognize and manage the risks, and adapt to the changes. Communication with your provider is also imperative to the success of your cloud. Reporting, continual risk assessment and honest discussions work to ease the fear of the unknown, and continue to build trust in the relationship and confidence in the technology itself.

As more and more organizations adopt the cloud, new areas of concern must be mitigated. The structural shift to cloud computing requires new technology and new thinking about how trust, identity and access administration can work in this new realm. Businesses can have great success with cloud computing by doing a little research. By finding a provider that has a long track record of performance, a reputation for innovation, leading-edge technology and expertise, and a comprehensive portfolio of best practices, they will enhance their chances for a successful business transformation effort and an edge over the competition.

More Stories By Chris Mankle

Chris Mankle is chief technology officer for IT Outsourcing in ACS, A Xerox Company. He leads the CTO Office in driving and delivering innovation, developing and executing a strategy, recommending the best solutions, creating a vision, promoting innovative solutions, and identifying and driving new business opportunities.

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