Moving to the cloud

18 Aug 2011

As cloud computing becomes increasingly mainstream, Laura O’Brien talks to industry experts about the considerations that should be taken when devising a cloud strategy.

Cloud computing is one of the biggest IT topics right now and Ireland has an opportunity to play a major role in its growth.

An economic impact study prepared for Microsoft by Goodbody Economic Consultants has revealed that Ireland has many of the attributes to become a global cloud computing centre of excellence. In fact, 30pc of Irish firms already sell products and services through the cloud.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is an umbrella term referring to the technology that allows IT services such as computation, software or storage to be handled by data centres offsite. These resources can be accessed by an individual or organisation through the internet.

William Fellows, co-founder of technology analyst firm The 451 Group, believes cloud computing offers a very attractive model for enterprises today.

“The main advantage is that instead of buying new computers and having to shell out capital expenditure, you can rent space on a cloud provider’s computer and you can recognise the money you spend on it as operational expenditure,” he says.

“The economic benefit is that it allows people to avoid having to provision all the IT to meet their peak demand – they can offload many of the tasks to a third-party client provider.”

In a time where companies are looking at any means to cut costs, it’s not difficult to see why cloud computing has become such a hot topic.

Fellows says many businesses are beginning to take notice of their competitors’ cloud strategies and are taking steps to try and implement their own.

He believes that, along with economic conditions and the service delivery model, the consumerisation of IT is another reason why cloud computing’s growth is inevitable.

“The trouble at the moment is that consumers enjoy better IT at home than they do at work,” he continues.

“People at home are able to use our IT services in a much more efficient way than we currently do at work and we think that has to change.”

“It would make sense for employees to access applications and services in much the same way as they do at home or elsewhere to increase productivity, avoid training and make it easier to use.”

Security and cloud computing

Security is a huge concern for businesses looking to move into the cloud and while security of software, hardware and data are highly important, companies should consider security measures around the availability of the cloud service.

This was highlighted when Amazon’s EC2 cloud outage occurred on 21 April, causing downtime to a few major consumer websites.

A number of data centres in Dublin, including Amazon’s and Microsoft’s, also suffered outages last week. The cause was originally thought to be a lightning strike, but the ESB confirmed it was actually due to a transformer failure. In some cases, customers suffered disruptions for up to 48 hours.

“A lot of the companies I work with basically decided that it’s entirely likely and indeed to be expected that the cloud is going to go down and fail at some point,” says Fellows.

“Companies need to think of having multi-cloud strategies – in other words, putting data, workloads and applications not just in one cloud, but planning for using different clouds for different purposes.”

Public sector cloud adoption

If there’s one area that needs to plan carefully when moving to the cloud, it’s the public sector. David Wilde was CIO for Westminster City Council, where he led a cloud adoption strategy. He is currently working on bringing Essex County Council to the cloud.

Wilde says that moving to a private cloud model, rather than a public one, was essential for the council. The private cloud is where data is not stored on systems shared among multiple organisations, offering a more personalised service where the organisation retains greater control and security of the information.

“The important thing for us is that we went for the private cloud model rather than public, because we needed to be sure where our data was being stored and whether it was stored in an appropriate fashion,” he explains.

The cloud’s advantages have benefited the council greatly, he believes. “The cost per user per annum on moving to a private cloud service was 20 to 25pc lower than a traditional hardware/software-driven service,” he says, noting that while their previous IT service was outsourced, it was not cloud-based.

“The other advantage for us was that we got more resilience and because the cloud service was based in different locations, there was effective disaster recovery in place because we didn’t have to pay for a dedicated provision.”

The biggest risk for Westminster City Council was on information governance. Wilde stresses that public-sector organisations need to be very clear as to what their obligations are regarding the law on where sensitive data can be hosted.

“You have to absolutely know and understand that so that when you make decisions on where your cloud-based services are going to be delivered from, you feel confident that you still remain legally compliant.

“That’s particularly important when you start getting into cloud-based systems development where, quite often, IT companies are using development companies in countries where you would have concerns over where the data is likely to be located because you haven’t got the necessary legal cover and, therefore, you wouldn’t want them to use it.

“It’s about understanding where your data is going in a cloud-managed service and making sure that you’ve got contractual controls in place that prevent your data going where you don’t want it to go. Often, people don’t think through all of those steps. They think in terms of ‘If it’s hosted in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland, then that’s great’, without thinking ‘Is that service provider doing design and build work in other countries?’”

The priority in considering a good cloud strategy is safeguarding the data, and knowing where it is handled is very important, especially for the public sector.

“We have a duty to the public because we’re guardians of resident information so we need to know where it is and how it’s being looked after,” adds Wilde.

William Fellows and David Wilde will be speaking at the Cloud Computing Summit on 8 September in Croke Park – for more details on the event visit the website.

Photo: David Wilde (left), former CIO for Westminster City Council, where he led a cloud adoption strategy, and William Fellows, co-founder of technology analyst firm The 451 Group. Both believe the cloud is an attractive model for today’s enterprises, however any strategy must be carefully considered

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