Infrastructure for the cloud

15 Oct 2011

For firms to reap the rewards cloud computing has to offer, they must not only have the right broadband infrastructure but also decide what aspects of their IT needs to be in the cloud in the first place.

A recent survey has found that while 60pc of firms surveyed have included cloud computing in their current IT strategy, 30pc believe that Ireland’s ailing broadband infrastructure is insufficient to support next-generation cloud apps. These are just some of the findings of State, a recent study conducted by Seefin Data Management. Some 212 respondents from Irish businesses took part in the survey in June 2011.

Some 83pc of the businesses questioned said they considered security or perceived security threats to be their primary concern when switching to cloud computing. Only 30pc of those questioned believed that Ireland has a sufficient infrastructure to support cloud computing.

Despite this, 60pc of the respondents indicated that cloud computing is included in their current IT strategy. Additionally, 45pc felt that switching to cloud computing would yield improved competitive advantage.

Dell Ireland country manager Dermot O’Connell says firms moving to the cloud should go back to the beginning and consider what they are putting into the cloud and why.

“We work with large, medium and small enterprises and it’s ultimately all about efficiency. A large enterprise would have lots of servers that aren’t being fully utilised and therefore they would solve the utilisation problem by implementing a private cloud network. That’s where virtualisation comes in.

“But if you are just moving a number of servers and applications, such as accounts and HR, to the cloud, hybrid cloud solutions – where you keep some applications locally and do some things over public cloud – or software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, like Google Apps or, are a good way of going about it.”

Andrew Maybin of Belfast and Dublin-based Tibus says the beauty of cloud computing from an infrastructure perspective is it provides firms with more room to manoeuvre.

“If you’re an Irish business that has an innovative idea, you can do that without the need for huge infrastructure investment.

“From a technical perspective, the flexibility and scalability are persuasive arguments while from a financial perspective keeping everything under a capex umbrella is just as persuasive. And, from a green perspective – because the infrastructure resides in an efficient data centre – that means a lower carbon footprint,” explains Maybin.

“It really comes down to the type of applications that firms are putting on the cloud,” says Peter Hendrick of AirSpeed Telecom. “From an enterprise perspective, the benefit is you can host information off-site in a secure location and access it anywhere, any time.”

Service level agreements

Wireless licensed telecoms operator AirSpeed Telecom is investing €1.6m in the development of a cloud-ready network for Irish firms. The network, using equipment from Juniper Networks, will enable customers with additional security options and scalable bandwidth from 1Mbps to 200Mbps to meet emerging needs.

Hendrick says firms need to weigh up the benefits of moving all, or just some of their critical business applications to the cloud. “There are lots of benefits to cloud computing. But what firms have to consider is when they are moving applications further away from users, from the premises to a remote data centre, they need to understand the network they are using to access their applications. It has to look and feel as if it is still local.

“This means they have to consider the bandwidth they are using, the latency and what service level agreement (SLA) is available and what happens if there is a problem with the network. Ultimately, users should experience no delay whatsoever in accessing their information,” Hendrick says.

Guido Marchetti of cloud and IT service provider MJ Flood Technology agrees that SLAs are critical: “You have to be confident that, if your data and applications are going to be stored remotely, you have no time issues retrieving or backing up information.

“Firms can sometimes underestimate the work that is required. When looking to work with third-party providers, you must investigate the implications of, for example, moving an Exchange server into the cloud and some of the knock-on implications. For example, will your local printers continue to work with these applications after you move to the cloud?

“Connectivity is always going to be an issue. You have to look at what your putting into the cloud. If you’re relocating an entire IT infrastructure you have to look at the connectivity, the size of the file transfer and if voice calls will be operating on the same line. If you are going with a hybrid model where only some applications, like email are hosted, you might not notice any impact at all,” adds Marchetti.

Setting realistic ‘cloud’ expectations

Brian Larkin, operations director of Digital Planet, says not every firm is equipped to move to the cloud, so they must set realistic expectations. HiberniaEvros itself recently announced a €1.6m investment in a new cloud division that will create 50 jobs over the next three years, including a €500,000 infrastructure platform deal with HP.

Larkin cites a legal firm in the midlands that moved its entire IT infrastructure to the cloud and ended up losing valuable time every day waiting for the remote servers to be backed up. “In that instance it wasn’t appropriate to move the entire infrastructure to the cloud. It is critical that you get the right advice before embarking on the cloud journey.

“It’s frustrating. Everything is being called cloud and that is creating confusion in the marketplace. As we see it there are three tiers to cloud computing: there’s software-as-a-service (SaaS); platform-as-a-service (PaaS); and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) – the area we are most concerned with. With IaaS, instead of building servers and platforms, that infrastructure already exists for you in a shared data centre. Cloud is simply an alternative methodology for consuming IT.

“If it doesn’t pass TCO (total cost of ownership), my advice is don’t do it. If it is more cost effective, yes. But not all companies meet that requirement. You need to get a return on investment. The key is cost reduction,” Larkin urges.