Is your head in the clouds?

Group of business partner looking for the future. Concept of corporate and startup

Information technology decision-making is often driven by the latest buzzwords.  “Shared computing”, “web services”, “service-oriented architecture”, “client/server and distributed processing” have all had their heyday. However, it seems that no IT buzzword has had more visibility in the consumer space than “cloud computing”.  So what is it and is it real?

A short history

Cloud computing is based on a long-standing computing principal that sharing expensive resources is better than each organization paying for those resources individually.  The concept originally gained traction with service bureaus in industries such as banking, as well as business processes like payroll, in the 60s and 70s.  Many service bureaus still operate in those areas.  This concept extended itself to mainframe computing when IBM developed the concept of a Logical Partition (LPAR) in 1972. This allowed companies to share an expensive mainframe and isolate their data and resources on the same machine.

With the advent of high performance servers, processing power became cheaper and servers proliferated.  Many organizations created server farms with hundreds of servers and the related data center facilities and staff to maintain them. Although this approach was more economical than large-scale mainframe computing, the expense of maintaining complex infrastructure for the data center (generators, cooling systems, fire suppression systems) and keeping technical experts on staff to care for and feed the servers was an additional complexity.

The next big thing

Cloud computing is the next evolution of the shared computing model.  Cloud computing uses server sharing technologies from vendors such as VMWare, Citrix and Microsoft to leverage a single server for multiple uses. The power of the cloud environment is rapid deployment and cost efficiency.  A virtual server can be setup in hours, not days, and be decommissioned just as rapidly.

So what about security?

One of the big objections to moving data from an internal server farm to a shared environment is loss of control over data security.  There are two ways to address this concern:

  • Audit your provider – Cloud computing providers undergo rigorous security validations to ensure that client data is protected.  The most common audit performed follows standards established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accounts.  This report is commonly called and Service Organization Control (SOC) audit.  If a company has a high quality cloud computing provider, they should be able to supply a report that is updated annually.
  • Develop a private cloud – Many of the technologies that apply to a public cloud environment can be applied to a private cloud.  Organizations can select a provider that hosts its servers in its own environment, but the company maintains control of the servers as they are not shared with another customer.

Is this all hype?

Bridgepoint Consulting has recently been engaged with several clients on cloud-engagements.  From our experience we have seen a significant impact from leveraging these technologies.

Move me quick

We were recently engaged by a healthcare company to move their data center from one service provider to another provider.  The environment had hundreds of servers and over fifty applications.  By selecting a vendor that understood cloud-based technologies, we were able to help the client migrate the data center in under six months and significantly improved the end user experience.

Build it from scratch

On another client engagement we were asked to assist the company in establishing an IT infrastructure from the ground up to support their divestiture from a large conglomerate.  The data center environment was live-in ready within two weeks and all applications had been migrated to the new higher performance environment within four months.  This would not be possible without leveraging cloud-based technologies.  The end users and the company’s clients saw an immediate gain in response time and application performance.

Is it right for me?

Based on Bridgepoint’s experiences, cloud-based technologies should be strongly considered.  They are high performance, efficient and responsive. If they are properly audited, they can be as secure, if not more secure, than internally managed environments. If your head is not in the clouds, maybe it should be!