October 4, 2012
By Tony Flath
EDMONTON, AB, Oct 4, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Can you remember ever being told to get your head out of the clouds? I certainly can, by teachers, parents, maybe even an old boss. Well, it’s finally time to get your head in the ‘cloud,’ in this case cloud computing.
Cloud computing allows organizations to take their IT Infrastructure and move it from their server rooms into a hosted internet data centre. It also gives an organization the ability to use the internet in a way that can manage virtually all of their IT requirements, in real time, with considerable cost savings.
In fact, cloud computing gives businesses options they could never afford in the past. Expensive programs and data storage, along with support and expertise, are now available on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. This allows business to more effectively utilize IT capabilities, streamlining and automating processes across the board and leveling the playing field by giving them the opportunity to access resources they may not have had the budget for in the past.
There are various types of clouds; private, public and hybrid. Simply put, a private cloud houses all a company’s data on their own ‘cloud server’; a public cloud will house many companies information on a single ‘cloud server’ and a hybrid cloud is a combination of the two. Cloud computing is also made up of various layers:
Application as a Service (AaaS), eliminates the need to purchase programs and software, but use them on an ‘as needed’ basis;
Platform as a Service (PaaS), allows developers to do deployment without the high cost of hardware and maintenance; and
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), stores your data without the cost of purchasing servers and maintaining them.
These layers give great flexibility for organizations to effectively use the vast resources of the internet in a way they would never achieve with an ‘on premise’ solution.
Cloud solutions can be tailored and deployed to operational requirements in a timely manner. What would typically have taken weeks or months to deploy in the past, can now be accomplished in days. Access to information is significantly increased, with availability to managers and employees in real-time from virtually anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. Collaborative solutions that offer management vital information are accessible even on hand-held devices.
Historically, IT has been a capital expenditure. Assets such as servers, racks, switches, routers and software have had to be maintained on site at considerable cost. Rapid depreciation of these assets, combined with constant upgrading requirements has strained IT budgets.
Furthermore, having the right mix of expertise and support makes it increasingly difficult to effectively utilize these assets. And all this before you even consider what a poor disaster recovery strategy might mean to your business should your system go down.
On-premise solutions have generally had inadequate disaster recovery plans if they existed at all. The cloud is constantly improving security features and offers 24/7 support should any problems arise. If by chance your system is compromised, you can be back up and running in minutes, rather than days or even weeks.
Case Study 1
Tyler Pahl, Chief Technical Officer of AwareBase, made the decision to move IT infrastructure and services to the cloud. AwareBase is an IT consulting and development organization that supports its document management solution – TINA.
Over the last year, AwareBase has opened an office in Noida, India which now has over 60 technical developers working for AwareBase. In 2011, they made the decision to start moving all IT services to the cloud. Irfaan Siddique, IT Manager, found the virtual environment very user-friendly and easily moved IT services in a timely manner. Ensuring a true IaaS environment greatly contributed to a seamless move.
Reflecting back and looking forward, AwareBase has learned a number of invaluable lessons utilizing the cloud, which it uses its internal IT requirements and in support of its clients. Irfaan sees the IaaS cloud as equivalent to the Wild West – the capabilities are endless but you certainly want to ensure you are on the right path.
What were the advantages
- Ability to create servers and networks on-the-fly in hours as opposed to days
- Ease to add and delete IT development testing environments as needed
- Access to development environment from all international locations
- Significant cost savings and predictable controlled costs as IT requirements increase
- Increased security meeting controlled goods requirements
- Effective disaster recovery planning with redundancy and data centre fail-over
- Cloud IT and telephony that provides one stable environment for 24-hour support for AwareBase’s clients
What lessons did AwareBase learn?
First, having the IDC (Internet Data Centre) in Edmonton wasn’t the best decision. The thought that local access and support was important didn’t outweigh the importance of location and connectivity gateway from the IDC to the international pipeline. Connectivity from Central Eastern Canada was found to be considerably faster to connect India operations.
Second, in looking at different options, some were only supported by one or two IDCs. The number of data centre fail overs (for example, if one IDC fails to move to another in a timely manner) is crucial to disaster recovery planning. With regard to licensing for Microsoft or other related software, it may make more sense to control that internally depending on usage.
Third, when looking at an IaaS, ensure it’s a true IaaS environment. Many options that AwareBase explored were actually more of a web-hosting environment. Have a good understanding of the environment the IaaS is developed in. i.e. Linux/Windows compatibility.
Fourth, being on a virtual server, as opposed to connecting to an on-premise server via remote desktop, can result in some changes to process; for example, with access to a physical server using remote desktop for a server reboot all hard drives automatically reconnect. Irfaan has discovered that occasionally on a virtual server a reboot of the virtual hard drives do not automatically connect.
Overall, AwareBase is pleased with its decision. The cloud is saving it time and money and has provided a secure international IT environment. The lessons that AwareBase has learned from developing in the cloud have allowed it to leverage not only cost savings but new market opportunities. It has now built the expertise to support clients who would like to move to the cloud but don’t have the expertise. It has also developed an environment where it can further develop its solutions as a SaaS offering to its clients and prospects.
Case Study 2
Santiago Gomez, IT Manager for Williams Engineering Canada (WEC) made the decision to move their IT exchange server to the cloud two years ago. Santiago made some changes to WEC Microsoft platform a couple of years ago and evaluated the possibility of moving their mail exchange server to a cloud service provider. After looking at a number of options, Santiago made the decision to move to a Telus multi-tenancy hosted exchange service provider. He made his decision based on the following:
Benefits of Hosted Exchange
- Reduced total cost of ownership
- Eliminated hassles of Exchange and Outlook licensing
- Provided advantage from high-availability/redundant data centre
- Kept internal administration costs down and allocated IT resources to strategic initiatives
- Wireless device integration
- Ease of adoption of new technology
Santiago has learned some valuable lessons from moving the exchange to the cloud. The overall experience has been very positive. The service is offered at a predictable cost every month with 24/7 support. Not only has WEC had significant cost savings with the ‘pay as you go’ option, they also have control with future ‘pay as you grow’ options. The time to implement was drastically reduced. It took less than a month to accomplish what would have taken three or four months before.
Although there is great cost savings, Santiago did say that there is a trade-off for control and customization with cloud services. He had some challenges deploying a wipe option on their corporate iPhones, something that would have been easy to control with an on-premises solution.
Despite the trade-offs, Santiago is a firm believer in the cloud. He has been able to free up his staff to focus their time on more strategic IT initiatives. Santiago has already moved WEC’s firewall to the cloud and is assessing other areas to gain even further advantages.
In the past, people kept their cash under their mattresses, now everyone carries a debit card. This same shift is happening with Information Technology. In the future there will be no ‘on premise’ IT infrastructure, it will all happen in the cloud. So it makes complete sense to let go of old ideas and get your head back in the clouds, I always preferred mine there anyway.
Troy Media Columnist Tony Flath works for Springbok Systems and is currently a board member of the ISACA Edmonton Chapter.
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