Four Tips to Make the Most of the Cloud

Will 2014 be the year your enterprise shifts its IT operations to the cloud? Keep these tips in mind as you consider your strategy.

By Jude Chao | Posted Jan 8, 2014
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2014 looks to be another strong year for the cloud, with the cloud computing and cloud infrastructure markets set to continue their growth and their transformation of enterprise IT environments. Open source cloud platforms like OpenStack and CloudStack are maturing—good news for enterprises planning on building their own cloud infrastructures—while a universe of providers on every level of the cloud stack exist to cater to those organizations, both large and small, that would rather outsource. Yesterday we discussed ways startups are helping secure enterprises in the cloud or using the cloud to secure enterprises and provided a cloud hosting case study. Today, let's discuss what factors to keep in mind when developing a long-term cloud strategy.

1. Virtualization is key to maximum flexibility.

When it comes to infrastructure, today's public cloud isn't about simply renting server space or dedicated servers from a third-party host. Shared hosting was a boon to smaller businesses that needed more capacity to manage the growth of their websites, as Ben Uretsky, cofounder and CEO of cloud hosting startup DigitalOcean pointed out, but, he said, "shared hosting has limited configuration capabilities, and user access to the operating system is constrained." And private clouds aren't just about dedicated servers, either—not if flexibility, agility, and cost savings are your goals.

Virtualization solves the problems of both shared hosting and dedicated servers. The speed with which a hypervisor can spin up new virtual server instances, which appear and function as dedicated servers, "allows for great flexibility and limitless options," Uretsky said. For this reason and others, enterprises looking to make the most out of their private, hybrid, or public cloud infrastructures must make virtualization a key part of their strategies.

2. Your business objectives > Trends and buzzwords

Speaking of enterprise cloud strategies, the plethora of cloud-based services out there can be overwhelming. Ultimately, however, "there really is only one key consideration" for companies planning their cloud deployments, according to Robert Grasby, senior product marketing manager at Juniper Networks. That consideration? "Alignment with business objectives," he said.

What are the business objectives your cloud initiative needs to meet? Budgets are limited, leaving little room for trial and error. Therefore, especially when it comes to private and hybrid clouds, "a clear understanding [of your business goals] is required to allow cloud architects to define the appropriate technology requirements and make the appropriate design trade-offs," Grasby said. As an example, he pointed out that while scalable architectures are important for businesses that anticipate growth in their application user numbers, they are much less so "for companies planning a private or hybrid cloud with a fixed user base."

3. Make sure you know your data sovereignty responsibilities.

Companies architecting private or hybrid clouds across national borders must also pay attention to relevant laws. Data privacy and transmission regulations vary by country and region; companies must understand the laws and determine what is appropriate for each nation in which they operate their cloud or clouds, Grasby told me.

Enterprises looking to utilize the public cloud face challenges, too. Service providers frequently operate data centers on multiple continents, as do hosting providers all the way from DigitalOcean to AWS. Having a cloud provider with a global presence provides multiple benefits but you must be aware of your legal responsibilities in those countries. Everything from what kinds of data or technology you can import or export to what kind of access each country's government has to the data within its borders must be explored.

4. Know what you shouldn't put in the cloud.

Issues like these are behind the sovereign cloud movement, as Osman Kent, co-founder and CEO of cloudpaging startup Numecent, explained to me. In Europe, for example, concerns over spying are prompting a call for data to stay within its country of origin. "Countries are relying on their own national carriers to put the infrastructure in place" for sovereign clouds, Kent said. And these concerns raise questions about networking equipment itself. "Everyone has to get infrastructure," he said, but from whom? Organizations putting together their own cloud infrastructure may find that American suppliers have been tainted by the NSA backdoor scandal. Some also question the security of hardware from vendors like Huawei, too, he told me. In today's environment, no cloud-bound data may be truly secure from all prying eyes, so one last question enterprises must consider is what data they will not allow to enter their cloud.

So what's the verdict? Cloud computing is a complicated arena with a number of challenges to consider. Ultimately, however, the cloud can do more than just drive down costs. As Tim Minahan, CMO at SAP Cloud, wrote on Forbes.com, in 2014, we'll see businesses begin to "leverage the cloud as a platform for innovation and business agility"—two qualities vital to growth and success.

What must businesses keep in mind as they move to the cloud? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article referred to Numecent as an "application virtualization" startup. The description has been changed to reflect their overall focus on cloudpaging technology.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is managing editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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