Building Clouds That Are Flexible and SecureBy Samuel Greengard Print
At the heart of the cloud issue is how to design and build clouds that deliver maximum flexibility and agility, while providing the highest level of security.
Weathering a New Era
In many instances, clouds are helping companies gain collaboration and workflow capabilities that wouldn't have been possible only a few years ago. In addition, many of these organizations benefit from lower CAPEX costs, as well as an ability to plug in new infrastructure, software and platforms with minimal IT staff and resources.
For instance, York Risk Services, a Parsippany, N.J., provider of insurance, risk management, alternative risk, pool administration and claims management solutions, migrated its core human resources functions into the cloud in August 2011.
The company, which has about 2,500 employees in the United States and another 100 abroad, viewed the move to SilkRoad's SaaS solution as an opportunity to significantly trim costs and add flexibility, including the ability for staff to access data via iPhones.
"We are able to introduce more advanced features, put more information in the hands of employees and reduce the overall burden on IT," explains Kevin Valenti, director of Human Resources, Benefits, Comp and HR Systems. "The cloud capabilities are helping us achieve a competitive advantage."
Some companies are now taking things a step further and deploying infrastructure as a service and other cloud components. One of these organizations is National Asset Direct (NAD), a San Diego firm that provides investment fund acquisition and management services for other companies. A couple of years ago, Chief Technology Officer John Madrid recognized that the company needed to dramatically boost performance and slash operating costs for its desktop computing environment.
For several years, the company relied on a hosting services provider to support a thin-client operating environment. Although NAD employees could access their virtual desktops from any thin-client system at any office location, remote access was a challenge. Employees could access email from outside the firm using Microsoft Outlook Web Access, but internal system access to productivity tools, network file shares and specialized business applications was limited. As a result, the company began experiencing business operation disruptions and diminished productivity.
In 2011, NAD evaluated a number of options and vendors with its value-added reseller, En Pointe Technologies, before selecting dinCloud. NAD then transferred its user account information, business data, applications, virtualization servers and storage systems to the cloud.
The move trimmed the company's server requirements from 50 to 30, while also slashing monthly IT operating expenses by 50 percent. It also resulted in enhanced IT control and greater operational flexibility, says Madrid. "Other than a VoIP system, we are now running our entire infrastructure in the cloud. We have centralized IT management capabilities [and have] a more consistent security environment."
Concerns about sensitive data in the cloud are fading as organizations better understand how to build cloud environments. Some businesses are opting to keep databases and sensitive information in-house, even when relying on a SaaS or IaaS approach.
Others, including a number of prominent retailers and health care organizations, are turning to third-party providers that specialize in storing and managing sensitive cloud-based data. In many instances, these firms provide more robust security, better governance and stricter controls than companies typically achieve on their own.
Capgemini's Coyle says that organizations must move away from a conventional bottom-up approach to building IT environments. "For many years, companies constructed data centers, installed servers, added PCs and built out a computing infrastructure," he points out. However, that model is rapidly being eclipsed by what he describes as a top-down approach.
"Organizations must look at the business process or examine a core business unit and work through a decision matrix that identifies business requirements and how best to address everything from performance to SLAs [service-level agreements] and security," he says.
In this new world of IT, infrastructure, applications and other resources are increasingly commoditized. "If an organization addresses its requirements from a business functionality point of view, it is more likely to end up in the right spot," Coyle explains.
In the end, this can translate into as much as 90 percent of cloud applications and services residing in the public cloud. IT's must orchestrate and blend these cloud services into a cohesive whole.
"Today's enterprise requires an IT department that can help the organization understand how to combine internal systems with cloud-based infrastructure, applications and data in a far more strategic way," Coyle advises.
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