An IT Manager’s Guide to Cloud Computing

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Cloud computing is rapidly dominating the business landscape. But for many firms, it remains a complex enigma, a mix of services and solutions that seem to deliver many benefits, but is often buried in jargon and hype.

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An IT Manager’s Guide to Cloud Computing
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As businesses become even more focused on efficiency, value and making IT a part of every business process, the cloud provides the solutions to these and other issues.

This comprehensive guide explores the following chapters:

  1. Cloud computing defined
  2. How does cloud computing operate?
  3. The four cloud deployment models
  4. The three cloud computing service delivery models
  5. Why cloud computing is important for businesses
  6. The key characteristics of cloud computing
  7. The disadvantages of the cloud
  8. What are the security risks of cloud computing?
  9. Why IT pros need cloud management
  10. Final thoughts

According to Palo Alto Networks, some 70% of businesses operate in the cloud, with 25% growth in adoption over the past year. In every market and vertical, from banking to manufacturing, retail to supply chain and business services, the cloud is fast becoming the de facto way to do business.

Cloud applications are fast replacing their legacy equivalents, from ERP, productivity and collaboration to finance and industrial applications. Businesses can rapidly adopt and deploy cloud services, making them ideal for startups and a digital poster-child for high-growth firms and modern enterprises.

But before every cloud buying decision, companies need to be aware of the safest route to deployment, ensuring business security, privacy and compliance, while ensuring that the cloud services they adopt can grow with the business and deliver maximum value.   

Cloud computing defined

Cloud computing is the business use of IT resources by your organization in an on-demand style. The cloud lives on providers’ massive data centers and is delivered and often managed over the internet with a pay-per-user or on-the-go pricing method, helping companies reduce costs and enabling scalable adoption of those services.

Cloud reduces the need for physical data centers or local servers, providing applications for employees, along with services like compute power, storage and databases. This is all delivered by a single provider or with users picking the best-suited applications from various providers for their needs.

These applications can be accessed on work laptops, tablets or smartphones, driving hybrid or remote working patterns that help make businesses more flexible and efficient.

How does cloud computing operate?

The cloud is far from being one amorphous digital creation. Every provider has their own data centers (or leases others) that end-user businesses access. Each cloud application has an account for every business, with some or many users accounts linked to it.

For hybrid or private clouds, enterprises might still use their own data centers for security or high-availability reasons, but for most users, they log-in via a web browser or mobile app to access the cloud applications and data, wherever they’re maintained.

Multiple users can access, update and share files, while administrators can assign or revoke access, upgrade accounts as needed and monitor usage to ensure the business gets value from each cloud service, expanding or adding additional services as required.

The four cloud deployment models

The cloud comes in several flavors to support the needs of business operations, comply with regulatory and security requirements and provide the maximum flexibility. There are benefits for each type of deployment, with the main advantages focused on cost, risk and business need.

A study conducted by Insights for Professionals identified that nearly two-thirds (64%) of CIOs operate a hybrid cloud model.

Which cloud deployment model do you use?

Public cloud

Public cloud is the workspace for most startups and SMBs who lack the need or funding for expensive computing infrastructure. But these companies grow fast, and many massive success stories still operate on the public cloud, often driven by Amazon AWS, Google or Microsoft services. They leverage the scalability of infinite public cloud resources to continue to grow as the workforce and customer base all scale up.

Private cloud

Private clouds are dedicated resources to your specific business. They're more suited for larger and established companies, those working in regulated markets, and governments. While security is a concern for most organizations, one of the advantages of this deployment model is that it gives IT departments greater visibility and control over their security.

Hybrid cloud

Straddling both cloud types, a hybrid model provides their combined advantages, allowing a business to maintain some services in a more secure fashion. As growth occurs, some services can migrate to public clouds, while firms can also use “cloud bursting” to support applications that can see dramatic growth or irregular usage to deliver additional capacity.

Multi-cloud

When comparing cloud service providers, some companies find a multi-cloud approach, adopting more than one provider has benefits. Consider it the same approach as airlines that fly both Boeing and Airbus aircraft. The key benefit of adopting a multi-cloud strategy is that it avoids lock-in with one specific vendor, provides the exact services the business requires and increases choice and flexibility for growth. However, with multiple providers comes the risk of cloud sprawl and a broader security border to protect.

The three cloud computing service delivery models

Having established the various types of deployment models, there is also the method of cloud service models to consider. Most businesses are familiar with the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, but to support businesses, IaaS and PaaS are also considerations.

The benefits of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. Which cloud service model best suits your business?

SaaS

Software as a Service is the most popular cloud service delivery model. It places most of the onus on the provider to manage and maintain the platform and applications in the cloud. If they go down for any technical or malevolent reason, so do your operations for the duration of the problem. However, SaaS offers huge cost benefits, is typically 99.9% reliable and, as long as your business is comfortable working with their apps, with limited customization and rules, users find SaaS meets most of their needs.

IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service is for businesses with greater fidelity demands, providing a virtual data center, without the cost of a physical build. Most providers offer highly customizable and expandable IaaS services, allowing the business to deploy its own apps and services with more granular control, but requires the IT knowledge to manage and secure those services.

PaaS

Platform as a Service is for those that need to build and operate their own applications. It provides a cloud populated with the OS, software updates, storage and infrastructure, with scalable tools to build IT projects of any size, and allows teams to focus on product development, not wrangling services. A recent trend in PaaS is the arrival of serverless solutions, which bill only for app execution or accesses, for more fine-grained billing, ideal for very large or high-volume applications.

Why cloud computing is important for businesses

The cloud allows any company to become a digital business without the excessive overheads and IT budget requirements of legacy systems and hardware. Cloud reduces the complexity of services, handles much of the security and provides the flexibility to innovate, delivering new products or services within the business or for customers faster.

Cloud also reduces the need for IT management, enabling CIOs, IT leaders and other roles to focus on delivering the IT services the company needs. Supporting the business improves the focus on results and the bottom line, rather than focusing on costly and time-consuming hardware and software provisioning, networking, security and other issues.

Cloud also simplifies business strategy planning, with new features such as AI and machine learning arriving with cloud services as part of the business landscape, rather than as mystical and costly high-ticket services. That supports and drives further business growth, creates opportunity and enables businesses to adopt these services with confidence, even as the technology moves to 5G, edge networks, broader use of deep AI and other innovations. 

The key characteristics of cloud computing

Here are seven key features of cloud computing:

1. Pay-as-you-use pricing

The overwhelming characteristic and benefit of cloud is the ability for any business to adopt a range of powerful enterprise-class services, compute resources and powerful intelligence at a low-cost.

Pay-as-you-use or pay-as-you-go enables fast growth, provides the security of regular billing and the ability to budget and plan for growth. Enterprises still spend many millions on cloud services, and must closely manage costs as cloud use grows, but the benefits of pay-as-you-use have made it a key feature for the majority of businesses. 

2. On-demand self-service

The ability to dynamically scale up or down cloud usage in line with business needs is another key benefit. Users can add users or applications as they become a business opportunity or requirement, and phase out old applications or services without facing extensive costs.

Compare on-demand with the legacy world of fixed applications, expensive services agreements, long gaps between updates and the risk of technical debt, and the on-demand nature makes it a strong cloud computing feature

3. Multi-tenancy and resource pooling

Another cloud computing advantage is the ability to use resources together in a pool and share them in a multi-tenant model. Multi-tenancy enables partners or related companies to share applications and infrastructure. Privacy and information security are maintained to keep critical data private. Resource pooling provides economies of scale as many customers can access the same physical resources, which is suitable for general business use but not for performance critical applications.

4. Scalability and rapid elasticity

Cloud-based solutions are more scalable, and can be upgraded instantly, compared to the legacy method of buying new physical servers or storage to beef up on-premises resources. This is vital for key applications like databases.

The elastic nature of cloud means that as the business grows or sees sudden spikes in activity, it can rapidly acquire more cloud resources.

5. Measure service

With cloud comes the ability to accurately measure service use, enabling the business to make rapid decisions about scaling up or scaling down its cloud usage. Cloud dashboards show uptime, usage and other factors to help calculate cloud spend and efficiency. Those figures also help with predictive planning for future use.

6. Data backup and disaster recovery

The majority of cloud services come with automated backups and disaster recovery built-in to help a business restore services after an outage or other issue. However, businesses need to ensure encryption and data protection between clouds and the premises. For disaster recovery, cloud can provide alternative zones or regions to move a customer to if there is a major problem with their usual service.

The disadvantages of the cloud

While there are many benefits to be gained through cloud adoption, there are several cloud computing challenges that can impact business operations and plans. From a reliance on a stable internet connection to security risks beyond the premises, they need to be considered and mitigated when planning cloud adoption.

1. Server downtime and internet connectivity

With a reliance on third-parties for server access and always-on internet, if one of those becomes unavailable then the business will grind to a halt. Most major services from Amazon AWS, Google and Microsoft all have the occasional small service interruption that’s often resolved by the time people have moaned about it on social media. However, a serious interruption can last for days, and requires IT leaders to have alternate business continuity plans in place.

2. Vendor lock-in

Many businesses start off with one cloud vendor and extend their reliance on that provider over time. If the business comes across a better solution or a provider with a better value proposition (or worse, your vendor ceases business), untangling services from the first provider can be complex and time-consuming.

3. Cloud security

Cloud security is just as much of a challenge as IT security inside the firewall, with the need to establish the weaknesses between all the cloud services you use, and adopting security solutions to create a secure digital perimeter. Users also add to this weakness, especially in remote/hybrid working environments when they may access cloud services composed of weakly secured BYOD devices.

What are the security risks of cloud computing?

Cyberthreats are a major issue for all businesses: assuming the cloud is safe and secure is the first mistake many companies make. Our 2021 The State of Cloud Security report revealed that 38.5% of CIOs had experienced a cloud data breach or cyberattack in the last 12 months.

To counter this and avoid a serious breach, all firms need to carry out cloud security audits to establish their specific risks and weaknesses, and then deploy the solutions to ensure business security and continuity of operations.

These risks multiply as businesses adopt IaaS and grows as firms use more APIs and cloud repositories, creating the following risks.

1. Inadequate visibility into networks

Cloud networks are harder to monitor for threats than those within your own firewall. Inadequate visibility into cloud networks makes it harder to identify the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks, account hijacking and similar issues. The solutions exist to improve monitoring, but require further cost and security knowledge.

2. Data loss

Data loss is a key issue for business leaders, with some 27% of CIOs concerned about data loss/leakage according to IFP research. Many major firms have experienced cloud breaches and data loss, but the automated nature of digital attackers means any business is at risk, and - as ever - it only takes one poorly-trained, careless or malicious employee to inadvertently create a scenario where data and files can be exposed.

3. Regulatory compliance

Data regulation remains a leading compliance issue for all businesses, with GDPR and other mandates forcing them to keep a closer eye on data protection and maintaining privacy across cloud services. Compliance audits enable businesses to see where their data resides and what regulations it falls under, as clouds become more widespread and third-parties move data around for legal or business purposes.

4. Data location

Related to compliance, data sovereignty is a growing area of concern for business and regulators, especially for companies affected by Brexit and growing political turmoil. Risks can emerge from data stored in foreign countries, while smaller cloud providers might keep data on low-cost servers that have sub-standard connectivity for business needs.

5. Poor due diligence

Adopting the cloud might seem like a slam dunk for any business, especially smaller firms, but all companies need to do their due diligence to ensure their cloud provider meets their needs and addresses security issues, including access, encryption, location and remediations. 

Why IT pros need cloud management

With all the issues raised around cloud adoption and usage, there’s a clear need for cloud management to ensure IT professionals remain on top of their services and in control of the data and applications. Using automated checks, they can ensure audits are carried out and regulatory compliance is maintained.

Cloud management platforms are largely automated to reduce the IT workload and improve visibility into workflows and workloads. Backed by best practices and the data from a cloud management tool, businesses can make the most efficient use of their clouds in a safe and regulatory-compliant manner.

Cloud management also supports cloud provisioning tools that help orchestrate and automate the installation, configuration and management of cloud services. As firms grow and enterprises adopt more cloud services, automated provisioning is the most efficient way to deliver them to users.

In addition, these tools can provide insights into your costs and help IT professionals to track and monitor usage across various cloud resources. For instance, insights into which resources are underutilized can help you to significantly reduce your overall costs.

Cloud management tools also help resolve technical issues and provide dashboards and reports, ensuring service-level agreements (SLAs) are met. As part of the overall cloud solution, management tools are a key part of any cloud strategy and deployment.

Final thoughts

The cloud, with all its nuances and variants, is fast becoming the de facto mode of operations for all businesses, as every firm migrates to the as-a-service economy, both for their own use and providing their own services for customers. However, before any buying decision is made, your migration and strategy must take into account the many factors discussed throughout this article.

Further Reading

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