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Thinking about jumping on the cloud? True, I’ve had no qualms in showing my skepticism towards the marketing of ‘cloud computing’ and it being the mere repackaging of solutions which have existed for years, but the fact is it still addresses a concept and reality that exists and one which holds numerous benefits.

Indeed abandoning an existing on-site IT infrastructure for a cloud provider that most often or not can’t offer the same level of security, control or performance is not an easy decision but one which CIOs and IT executives are seriously considering when weighing up the economic benefits. As with any change though, a move towards the cloud necessitates a sound and comprehensive assessment to avoid the trap of a short term benefit turning into a long term nightmare.

Integration Considerations
Firstly your company should assess its business strategy and whether a cloud computing infrastructure could integrate with it. With all the convenience that cloud offers, the risk of data residing beyond your company’s vicinity still presents a significant security risk. Hence depending on your company, whether that be a startup, small, medium or enterprise an assessment of how much risk you are prepared to take in order to cut costs will initially be the first factor in deciding which data / applications to outsource to the cloud. This is what often leads enterprises to be content with using the cloud for archival while smaller business find it easier to go the whole nine yards. Once that’s decided your design for integration should first evaluate each process and system and determine the number of simultaneous requests that need to be handled. As always availability of information also needs to be paramount, regardless of whether the information resides internally or on the cloud. Thus the key for enterprises is to not think of the cloud as a substitute for their processes, policies and security but rather an extension of their existent architecture.

Choosing the Right Cloud
If your company needs access to e-mail, e-commerce, gaming applications, etc. with cost reduction being the primary concern over security and availability then the public cloud provides the service to access such applications via a thin device with minimal financial overhead. Here the start up business can thrive but companies with an already substantial customer base and Tier 1 applications such as OLTP should think otherwise. In such an instance a hybrid cloud may be most suitable wherein the Tier1 application data remains in house with the cloud being utilized for backup, archiving and testing bringing in the consequent cost savings. Enterprises on the other hand with strict Sarbanes Oxley and security controls on customer data and service levels may outweigh the risk of information access control over cost and leave the cloud altogether, that is until security in the cloud becomes further enhanced.

Testing the Cloud with your Existent Virtualized Infrastructure
The balance of scales will always alternate between the reliable and secure nature of data centers with the far cheaper ‘pay as you use’ option of cloud computing. Therefore a way to get a taste of the cloud and assess its suitability to your environment is to utilize the virtualization that is already taking place within your data center. If you are one of the few archaic infrastructures that has not already moved towards the virtualization of applications and infrastructure then you are already missing out on immediate cost benefits which could be existent within your own data center or what the marketing teams tag ‘the internal’ or ‘private’ cloud. With the independence of applications from their physical infrastructure, your in house virtualisation already provides the gateway and flexibility to cloud offerings which are based on external virtual infrastructures. By choosing a non-core application to experiment with such as your e-mail archiving you can quickly set up a test environment and get a feel of the bottlenecks, security, performance and billing procedures of the cloud. Upon sufficient testing and having gained an idea of the metrics you required, you will have a better idea and peace of mind on how best to deploy more mature applications to the cloud.

Choosing the Right Applications
Choosing the right applications is also a serious precursor as not all applications are best suited for the cloud. If PaaS and IaaS are a consideration then a migration may be a necessity if the cloud may not support your application especially if there are incompatibility issues between the platform software and your application. Another issue is related to applications that require real time response that can’t be put at the risk of potential network latency, congestion or bandwidth clogging. Tight backup windows, graphics intensive applications or applications handling large I/O would need serious consideration and investigation of the SLAs provided by the cloud prior to any migration. On the flip side applications linked to your non core business operations may be ideal for deployment such as a marketing campaign website or a standalone application that doesn't require much interaction with other applications. Again applications which are used for testing purposes can easily be deployed to the cloud with minimal costs and risks to the business especially with many cloud providers offering free trial periods.

To conclude, while network latency, data availability, security and application support are all valid concerns for customers thinking of utilizing the cloud, a sound approach and pre-analysis could easily alleviate them, bringing in major cost savings to your business. In other words jumping on the cloud bandwagon without the right assessment might see you falling straight through from the sky; but making sure the cloud you do jump on is substantial enough to support and sustain your company could also be the soundest business investment you’ll ever make.

About Archie Hendryx
SAN, NAS, Back Up / Recovery & Virtualisation Specialist.

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