Is Cloud clouding the issue?

Cloud computing isn’t just fashionable, it’s widely considered to be a required component of any modern IT solution. But the varied and ‘catch-all’ nature of a term like ‘cloud computing’ leaves it wide open to confusion. There are fundamental differences between public and private clouds that can substantially affect their suitability for one business or another.

One is occupied by multiple tenants, externally managed and rapidly expandable, the other is privately managed and secured, specifically for the needs of a single tenant. The only characteristic these solutions share is virtualisation. Despite being decidedly less ‘sexy’ and marketable, virtualisation is the real game-changer in the IT industry today.

Public cloud

The principal value of a cloud solution is often assumed to be as a cost saving initiative, which is undoubtedly the case for public cloud. These solutions can be rapidly expanded to meet business requirements and cope with spiked demands on resources. Opting for public cloud outsources the cost of maintaining, orchestrating and optimising your own systems.

Another key element of the public cloud is the speed with which it can be implemented. Cloud providers offer out-of-the-box solutions that allow for very agile implementations, further keeping costs down. These cost saving elements are a major reason behind the widespread uptake of public cloud by SMEs. Many companies find themselves in the situation where it makes commercial sense to offload the management of their IT infrastructure, lowering the cost-barrier to new technologies and dramatically simplifying a major business process. Public clouds offer access to a smart, automated and adaptive IT solution at a fraction of the cost of a private installation of similar capabilities.

Private cloud

A private cloud brings very different benefits to a business. Because individual businesses are responsible for the management and upkeep of private cloud systems, great control is the primary goal of a private cloud, not cost-saving. When one business is the sole tenant of cloud infrastructure they can control and customise it to their very specific needs. Processes relating to R&D, supply chain management, business analytics, and enterprise resource planning can be all effectively migrated to a private cloud.

Where public clouds can offer flexibility and scalability to a huge degree at reduced cost, private clouds offer increased control and customisation over a virtualised IT environment. This is an important consideration for businesses in industries or sectors that are governed by strict regulations around data handling, security or transaction speed that may effectively prohibit the use of public cloud solutions.

Moving on from Safe Harbour

The European Court of Justice’s recent decision to nullify the ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement has caused many businesses to re-evaluate their cloud solutions in order to adhere to the new rules governing geographical limitations data transfer and storage. What becomes clear here is that all cloud implementations are absolutely not created equal. Given the misplaced connotations around the term, talking about ‘cloud’ can actually unhelpfully confuse discussions that should instead be focused on the required merits of virtualisation and how they can be applied to the specific IT service needs of a particular business.

Cloud computing is not the simple answer to the challenges facing enterprise IT today. Rather it is an important IT sourcing decision in the journey towards a multi-sourced, software-defined IT system that is specifically tailored to the needs of modern business. As businesses mature, managed self-built and public clouds must co-exist with each other as well as with legacy systems.

Here, the role of the data centre in enterprise IT architecture becomes crucial. All clouds have a physical footprint of some kind or another. More often than not, this footprint resides in a data centre that is capable of facilitating the high power-density, efficient workload focus and seamless interconnectivity between data sources that underline the core principles of virtualisation.

The hot topics of enterprise IT – the IoT, big data manipulation, machine to machine communication – all fundamentally rely on the software-defined approach that datacentres can provide. In the question of how enterprise IT can cope with the challenges of these applications, the cloud is only a small part of the answer.

Andrew Roughan is Business Development Director at IO

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