By C R Srinivasan
While cloud computing has become a business necessity for enterprises of all sizes, what remains a point of uncertainty for many is the type of cloud they should opt for:—private, public, or hybrid. This is largely determined by the IT resources of the organization, the type of data it has to deal with, and the desire to use the cloud as the foundation for a complete organization-wide digital transformation strategy, spanning all lines of business.
Choosing the right cloud type takes time, but more companies are well on their way. According to a recent global study by McAfee, Building Trust in a Cloudy Sky, 93 percent of organizations use cloud services in some form. Interestingly, over the last year there has been a significant shift in their choice of cloud architectures, from private-or public-only to predominantly hybrid, which increased from 19 to 57 percent. In contrast, there was a notable drop in private-only cloud, from 51 in 2016 to 24 percent in 2017, and in public-only from 30 to 19 percent.
Still, the popularity of certain private, public, or hybrid cloud models is not always determined by the cloud type itself, but by the challenges that some organizations face in deploying and managing their cloud infrastructure effectively. So, how to enterprises make the right cloud choices and avoid common pitfalls along the cloud journey? We discuss below.
High Value of Data
Often, the type of cloud that makes sense for a business depends on the size of the organization given the resources needed to deploy and manage the new IT set up. For smaller companies and startups, it is often a no-brainer to go with a public cloud to begin with, because they have no, or very little, legacy IT to migrate. Most mid-sized companies on the other hand, tend to have a fair amount of legacy IT that they need to move to the cloud, but often limited IT resources. They tend to opt for ready-made public clouds or fully managed private clouds so that they don’t have to invest further into their own infrastructure and grow their own IT team. However, challenges arise when they choose a public cloud and then work with a systems integrator to customize it to the needs of the business. This multi-vendor approach can add complexity to IT management.
Yet, regardless of the size of the organization, the key questions for the IT decision maker include, what type of data do I have? And crucially, what is the value of my data? A public cloud is often not the best home for highly valuable, sensitive, business-critical data—even in small businesses. In spite of this, almost 85 percent of professionals surveyed by McAfee report they “store some or all of their sensitive data in the public cloud.”
Data security is, and will remain, a major factor in an enterprise’s cloud strategy too. It boils down to making a call between what is an acceptable amount of convenience versus an acceptable amount of risk when it comes to access to applications and data. That is why a highly secure, fully managed private cloud that gives the CIO maximum control over applications and data, and the ability to mix the private cloud set-up with public and on-premise systems, is often the best option.
Cookie Cutter or Customized?
Choosing the right cloud type to match the needs of the business is the first step. If a public cloud is chosen as the best way forward, and if the number of applications and volume of data is small, the process can be simple. But for medium-sized and large enterprises, cloud migration is often a complex process that takes time, so they seek the support of a systems integrator or another type of technology partner. Here, the seamlessness of the migration itself—and especially the on-boarding process that follows—is critical. In fact, the lack of adequate on boarding, whereby the enterprise is left in its own devices after the migration, can be a major cause of dissatisfaction for CIOs.
For large organizations with operations that spread across geographies, hundreds of employees per line of business, and rapidly evolving business demands, the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all nature of a public cloud can be too inflexible. While a customized private cloud takes long to implement, it is an investment that more organizations are willing to make. Given the scalability benefits it brings and the control it gives to the CIO. By working with the right private cloud partner, the CIO is also able to adopt a step-by-step approach to the cloud migration journey, moving applications and lines of business to the new IT set-up one by one to ensure a smooth migration.
Dealing with Disruption in Different Clouds
Given the way that cloud applications have permeated all lines of business—finance, CRM, legal, marketing, and human resources—and the way in which all employees rely on anytime, anywhere access to cloud-based data, any issues can easily snowball into major disruptive incident if not dealt with in a timely fashion. While different cloud types have a lot in common, they differ the most when it comes to how quickly a disruption in each type of environment is likely to be solved.
With public clouds, the provider is fully in charge of managing all aspects of the infrastructure and ensuring that customers have 24/7 access to applications and data. In most cases these cloud providers have large resources and teams, all dedicated to sticking to SLAs, keeping the cloud up and running, and safeguarding revenues for the business.
When it comes to internal private clouds, it’s up to the enterprise to fully manage it. So, the organization’s own IT team is in charge of investigating the causes for any downtime, breaches, or other issues and then coming up with a solution—hopefully with minimum negative impact on employees, customers, and other stakeholders. However, while a private cloud self-managed by the enterprise gives it complete control over the entire cloud infrastructure, many enterprises don’t have the resources to deal with issues as quickly as needed. In addition, the internal IT team can be so far down the pecking order that they might not have the impetus to solve problems with the required urgency. They have no SLAs to comply with either, so, depending on the size and expertise of the IT team, it can take some time before the issue is solved and the private cloud is up and running again.
That is why companies opting for a self-managed, internal private cloud should always consider the following questions—how long can our employees and customers we cope with cloud downtime? How long can we afford to wait until any issue is resolved? Do we have the IT staff and budget to ensure quick recovery from any issues that might arise? To ensure that any issues can be resolved before they even lead to downtime, many organizations are now moving to fully managed private clouds. This gives them access to a public cloud-like army of IT experts 24/7 while ensuring that the CIO maintains maximum control over the IT infrastructure, as well as the security and sovereignty of data and applications.
Black, White, and Shades of Gray
Often the decision between public versus private is not a black and white one, and large enterprises will find that a hybrid approach, mixing both cloud types and on-premise systems, is the most pragmatic and effective solution. However, given the complexities that a cloud migration can entail, and the need to be able to manage the entire IT set up as one, CIOs should consider partnering with a private cloud provider that is able to give them 360-degree visibility and control over this critical infrastructure and support them on their entire cloud journey.
A successful migration is only the start. With the right partner, the CIO is able to harness the new, hybrid cloud infrastructure for new digital transformation initiatives across the organization—today and in the future. After all, in today’s digital world fueled by data, the IT infrastructure is the growth engine of the enterprise.
C R Srinivasan is the senior VP, global product management and data centre services for Tata Communications.