Over the past five years, the UK has been subjected to high doses of cloud fever. Public sector organisations now face a bewildering array of cloud offerings, which if chosen carefully, can deliver major benefits. The key challenge for organisations is choosing the best options for their IT environment – whether it’s a public or private cloud – or a hybrid mix of the two.
The good news is that the UK cloud market is now more mature. Assisting this is the Government’s G-Cloud initiative that includes infrastructure, platform, software and specialist cloud services. This framework now offers an effective and safe option for UK SMEs by providing stability and guarantees. The utility nature of cloud services also means that they can be funded with opex, rather than capex – which is very appealing to cash strapped organisations.
For the public sector’s early adopters opting to purchase IT services as a commodity, the key to successful outcomes is understanding what to place in either an on-premise or public cloud. For the majority of organisations, the best solution is a flexible, hybrid option of private on-premise cloud – bursting into the public cloud, for areas such as backup or disaster recovery (DR), or as processing capacity increases.
This means by embracing hybrid cloud architecture, organisations can gain flexibility and access to additional services, combined with localised control and immediate usability. This allows business services to be aligned to IT infrastructures in the right context, with the right service levels and at the right cost.
There are a range of IT activities that are perfectly suited to the hybrid cloud as they have all been successfully delivered for many years via cloud-type third-party services. These include; data backup, storage, DR, IT infrastructure management and support.
A good online storage service should allow organisations to easily and securely access, share, and sync files from anywhere, at any time, using any device. Key features sought should include automatic sync, secure encryption for data during transit and at rest, bandwidth controls, easy recovery and simple user licenses. Storage can either be hosted privately at an organisation’s own data centre, or within a public cloud.
Although backing up and recovering data is critical to organisations, it’s often considered costly, cumbersome and difficult to manage. Invariably backups fail in the middle of the night meaning the backup window impacts production time – causing data loss. Fortunately, there are some excellent enterprise-class technologies that can provide a reliable backup service that is easy to deploy and fully managed via public, private or hybrid cloud models.
A great option is a policy-based archiving service that can either archive directly into a public cloud – with the option of a second copy in a second data centre – or archive locally first, before pushing the second copy to a public cloud. Key features should include; choice of deployment models, encryption as standard, de-duplication of data at source and target – with a recovery point objective (RPO) that fits the business need for data recoverability.
Getting the budget required for DR is always a challenge. The result is that many organisations either end up with a compromised service level, or a set of assets that will never be fully utilised.
There are now ‘disaster recovery as a service’ offerings, designed to allow organisations to replicate data from their primary platform – from their own data centre, or a cloud to provide offsite data protection and recovery of services – in the event of a DR situation. In addition to this, the platform ought to provide an automated recovery and restart of servers to a guaranteed SLA for the RPO – to match business requirements of each service.
IT Infrastructure Cloud
Delivering a 24×7, IT service that can adapt to business needs, without significant capital investment, skills and resources – is a major challenge. Also, investing in the data centre environment required to house these assets, is not appropriate for most organisations’ budgets.
The advent of ‘infrastructure as a service – solves these problems. Organisations can also choose an on-premise option delivered using a utility pricing model. Organisations pay monthly for hosted server, network and storage services – according to usage. This frees up capital budget and should deliver service levels that exceed service requirements, liberating in-house IT teams from operational tasks – to focus on business development projects.
Key Cloud Considerations
There will always be organisational concerns that include control over enterprise and customer data, as well as worries about security and regulatory compliance. This means that ‘core’ facets of an IT environment, such as key applications and critical data, may at this stage, best be kept and managed within a private cloud or in-house. Organisation ought to be looking to classify their data assets to a defined standard to make decisions about where and how to keep information simpler.
It is important that organisations understand what areas of their IT environment should be in the cloud and what must remain in-house. The cost of moving to the cloud, as well as the cost of exiting the cloud, should be identified – as well as an exit strategy if cloud computing doesn’t deliver to expectations.
Security concerns can also inhibit cloud service adoption, even though the security levels of the most cloud providers are well in excess of what most organisations have in-house. However, a cloud provider must offer adequate SLAs of at least 99.8%, or guarantees for security levels or audits.
Cloud data centres should also be a minimum of TIA-9424 Tier 3, self-certified and the vendor must commit to providing visibility of the process, plus compliance with the EU Code of Conduct for data centre operations. And in line with data classifications the data centres are now able to offer certification for compliance with IL2-6 standards for physical and network access.
Organisations need to carefully assess the move to the cloud, based on their own state of cloud readiness and the readiness of the cloud for them. In reality, most organisations will employ a strategy of co-existence where some systems and applications go into the public cloud – while other more critical ones remain in-house. A hybrid mix of private cloud and public cloud services will be the favoured route for most organisations – at a pace that suits their organisational culture.