Understanding the Cloud to Drive Better Decision Making

0914NovitexArtCloud technology has the ability to positively disrupt and transform business models and ecosystems; yet, many non-IT executives have misconceptions about what the cloud really is, as it is often surrounded by jargon. Developing an effective cloud strategy requires understanding what technology is available and where it can be used to determine your risk appetite and compare the spectrum of options available.

One significant misconception is that a cloud is harder to manage than a top-tier data center, which is no longer true. Today, we live in an era marked by rapid change, intricate technology and mass data, making traditional models inefficient and more costly. For instance, in order to keep up with the growing volume of data today, an enterprise would either need to optimize storage or upgrade hardware continuously. This requires dedicating resources — both manpower and money — to manage the data center, which is not core to business. On the other hand, cloud technology, regardless of model type, is scalable and can drive cost efficiencies.

While continuously evolving, the cloud generally consists of a broad range of on-demand services that are either provided as Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The differences among the three service models are:

SaaS: You consume it (e.g. customer relationship management software for end users)

PaaS: You build on the tools a vendor provides (e.g. application development)

IaaS: You migrate to it, maintaining control of the software but not the hardware (e.g. storage)

There also are three deployment models — private, public and hybrid. While all models enable enterprises to virtualize data centers they each have different features and capabilities, impacting when and how they should be used.

A private cloud is built and maintained for a single organization. Large enterprises in highly regulated industries with complex workflows and an abundance of data should consider leveraging this model as it provides scalability, automation, security, reliability and agility.

Contrary to popular belief, a private cloud also can provide greater security than a traditional data center. To put it in perspective, the Target breach — one of the biggest in history — highlights the security vulnerabilities of a traditional data center. Hackers installed relatively simple malware on the retailer’s security and payments system, enabling them to successfully steal customer information from its mainframes. A private cloud can offer greater security as it has more resources dedicated to protecting infrastructure and is engineered to be best-in-class, providing greater governance and compliance.

Security is one of the reasons why Novitex opted to deploy a private cloud IaaS, built and supported by IBM SoftLayer. In addition, we chose to leverage the IBM Security Identity Manager to provide an additional layer of security as we handle sensitive communications for Fortune 500 enterprises that operate in highly regulated industries. By pairing a state-of-the-art cloud infrastructure with added security, we minimize our risk, and the benefit is that we can transform — and revolutionize — how we provide services to customers.

However, not every enterprise has the same needs, making either public or hybrid clouds viable options.

A public cloud is a multi-tenant environment, and due to its shared environment, enterprises typically use a public cloud for non-sensitive data and applications, such as their websites.

The emerging model is the hybrid cloud, which is composed of private and public cloud elements that are connected by standardized technology, allowing data and application portability. Gartner predicts that nearly three-fourths of large enterprises will leverage a hybrid approach by 2015. This model allows enterprises to keep workflows in ideal environments, leverage scalability and ensure the security and privacy of sensitive information and applications.

As cloud technology has the ability to change how businesses operate, you should view your strategy holistically, not just through the lens of IT. Specifically, you should form a task force of key stakeholders across departments in order to create the collaboration needed to facilitate and drive the appropriate change. Together, during the due diligence phase, you can determine your risk appetite, assess which workflows you want to move to a cloud and how best to ensure security.

Those who understand the transformational benefits of the cloud, work together and strategically examine their IT ecosystem to define their business needs — for today and tomorrow — will stay ahead of the curve. Don’t you want the competitive advantage?

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Workflow.