With the coronavirus pandemic demanding new ways of working across the world, cloud services are proving vital in the battle for businesses to adapt and maintain their operations.
By Tony Limby, hybrid cloud solutions director at BT
The cloud holds such potential that it’s impossible to predict its limits. While this is good for businesses, the pace of development (even before the impact of coronavirus) was making it hard to agree a cloud strategy direction.
As mobility and application numbers increase, demands on connectivity from anywhere, and at any time grow fast. Once the introduction of containers is thrown into the mix, this complexity surges.
How will cloud develop in the near future?
Gartner predicts that 80% of data centres will be obsolete within five years, as organisations move their operations to the cloud – a hybrid structure of public cloud, cloud provided by the big hitters (Microsoft, Google and Amazon), private cloud and increasingly, by those providing facilities at the edge of the network, like Equinix.
Within this cloud environment the current shift from ‘traditional’ infrastructure services to cloud native and container-based solutions will accelerate as enterprises look for more agile and rapid ways to develop greenfield application functionality. Beyond that, service mesh is an emerging technology that will introduce a dedicated infrastructure layer to make service-to-service communications over a network safe, fast and reliable. This leads to a move from static environments that are patched over an extended lifecycle to ones that are dynamically built, short-lived, and can change many times in a day.
Organisations are taking advantage of the at-scale and on-demand hosting, processing and data analytics provided by cloud service providers to manage their large data workloads. Many businesses now use a multi-cloud and a hybrid cloud approach to ensure the best cloud is available to suit the application and location. While multiple cloud solutions can help drive agility, they can create issues around securing data and networks, maintaining control, meeting regulatory and compliance requirements, and ensuring the right levels of performance.
We’re seeing cloud architectures evolve to push processing capability out to the edge of the network, closer to data sources. This may be payment data in the finance industry, process data in the manufacturing plant, or gas and chemical analysis data at the oil wellhead; each rich data source is invaluable. But, this explosion of data and auto scaling endpoints needs more aggregation, and the complex cloud services to be co-located to make sense and create smart, actionable insight with which to manage your business.
Corporate networks are changing fast – even more so with the impact of Coronavirus – with an increased focus on software-defined services (SD-WAN) and networking is clearly crucial to a good cloud experience for users. Networks have a critical role in processing data at the edge and 5G will transform our world with low latency and high bandwidth. Businesses will want to maximise that performance advantage by keeping the ‘journey’ to computing power as short as possible.
We’re also seeing working practices change in an unprecedented way, as digital transformation programmes cut across traditional towers such as applications, infrastructure, software and hardware. This can be a significant challenge for traditional procurement and service contracting models, and the leading organisations are investing in skills and organisational capability to get the best from new, born-in-the-cloud partners and best of breed service providers.
Changes in working practices have challenged the past security paradigm. Security needs to be re-imagined in this new world, and commercials have some way to go in catching up. The days of just putting a firewall on the end of things are gone forever; moving to the cloud will accelerate the adoption of an increased flexible security model, even as far as a zero-trust approach. This will mean security protections will move to firstly the identity controls and then within the application space itself.
Cloud challenges businesses are up against
New sophisticated and complex cloud ecosystems are developing, and it’s a challenge for businesses to grasp the full range of choices and implications moving into this environment brings.
As a starting point, businesses need to consider their long-term strategy for cloud if they are to maximise the value of their data to their business. No one wants to fall into the trap of simply replicating legacy technology within the cloud and failing to achieve its full potential. When you consider moving data and applications to the cloud, it rarely makes sense to lift and shift, though re-architecting an application for the cloud is expensive. The right choice will always depend on the key triggers for cloud adoption in your own business, for example any mergers and acquisitions activity or new regulatory controls.
When we worked with a global retailing business and reviewed their strategy against our cloud maturity model, we used fast-paced network, application and security assessment tools and our experience and cloud networking expertise to recommend the vital next steps. We were able to identify the quick wins and help justify the investment to the IT team’s stakeholders in a detailed plan.
Those who take the time to do the various impact assessments – application, network, security and commercial – tend to deploy more swiftly and successfully avoid pitfalls.
Governance will need to change to manage the challenges of this new landscape, focusing on a range of factors, from unexpected costs to poor cloud network architecture and access control. Data only becomes valuable insight if it can be collected, collated, shared, and distributed, only then can the data support a successful business transaction. But this is technically difficult for all the reasons we have explained.
In this new world, because of the complexity end-to-end, no one entity will own an asset, requiring a fresh approach to monitoring and service agreements. A service is only as good as it’s component parts and the partners helping you to deliver – and in buying a service your thinking around SLAs will have to shift. No longer will network latency, jitter and round-trip delay be as appropriate and you’ll need to troubleshoot the complex configuration of cloud services.
Plus, it’s likely that businesses will find they don’t have the skills they need in house to ensure their cloud deployments are well architected, performant, secure, governed and managed. Businesses who are partway through their move to cloud are particularly vulnerable to the skills shortage. Once they’ve moved the simpler applications into the cloud, IT teams often falter from not seeing the benefits as expected. Then, they’re left contending with a costly ‘halfway house’ scenario, which slows down the migration of legacy mission-critical applications, and means they need to run the old and new architectures together as efficiently as possible.
Understandably, because of where cloud services are in their development, businesses have a lot of issues to tackle around hybrid cloud. We find enterprises appreciate guidance to simplify and operate a multi-cloud and private cloud environment and are looking for hybrid computing solutions and management. But they must also identify and apply the right performance network access to the cloud to underpin their hybrid networks, be that Internet-based or private network. This will very much depend on their mix of applications and their sensitivity to performance and security.
How to identify the right cloud service operating model for your business
Gartner recognises that this new world of cloud needs a new orchestration role: the cloud services broker, who can manage the complexity of multiple cloud ecosystems and transform businesses into digital enterprises.
To identify the right cloud services broker, start by asking the following questions:
* Do they offer the best network for the cloud?
* Ask about their choice of clouds, coverage, reach, hybrid network offerings, cloud networking and investment in Carrier Neutral Facility for the edge.
* Do they have a strong track record in cloud-native networking?
* Ask about their skills, knowledge and capabilities in creating a choice of the high-performance networks that will be critical to future cloud performance.
* Do they offer cloud-centric security with cloud-native security controls and best-of-breed security vendors?
* Can their cloud management platform offer management at scale plus excellent visibility and control across multi-clouds?
* Do they offer access to standardised landing zones?
* Ask about their ability to offer a standard set of secured cloud infrastructure, policies, best practices and centrally managed services across different data providers.
* Can they support you with effective service orchestration?
* Ask about how they support standardised services represented as infrastructure as code.
* Do they have a partner ecosystem and a managed service that can support wherever cloud is heading next? Check they are smart-partnering with partners who bring best of breed capability to further differentiate their service offering.
* Does their security tooling give you the protection for the multi-cloud environment or just the local cloud that you are using?
While the coronavirus pandemic is massively disrupting businesses across the globe, cloud can really help with maintaining operations.