On The Fast Track

On the Fast Track

Private cloud computing is the next big wave

On the Fast TrackCloud computing has kicked off the next big wave in business computing. It offers many benefits including business agility, security, scalability and reduced administration, resulting in a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for any size and type of company. The recent innovations in mobile devices and virtualization technologies, including today’s comprehensive, wireless access to high-speed Internet, have all contributed to the acceleration of cloud computing.

Fueled by the rapid growth of social computing, mobility and availability have become key factors for the hardware and software industry as mobile devices and applications (apps) accessing the Web are set to be bigger than traditional desktop computing by 2015. The number of employees using their own smartphones and tablet devices to access private, corporate and public cloud services is quickly increasing, which has forced decision makers in most IT departments to make business applications available.

About Private Cloud Computing

Cloud computing began with the public cloud. A service provider makes resources available to the public for free or with a “payas- you-go” model, which can include computing services, applications and storage. With this low-cost, easy-to-set-up model, scalability isn’t an issue because you only pay for what you use. Examples of the public cloud include Google Apps and Amazon Web Services.

The private cloud is essentially a cloud infrastructure that operates for a single organization or where the service access is limited to a specific group of people. It is comprised of networking, server hardware, which usually provides server virtualization, storage and management tools. This is most often managed internally, but it can be hosted externally by a managed service provider (MSP), making it then known as a “virtual private cloud.”

The public cloud addresses the needs of the market, but it is not tailored to the needs of individual companies. While it offers many benefits, there are certain applications that require stricter control over data. This has led to the evolution of private cloud computing or delivering IT as a service securely, within your own infrastructure.

The reality is, however, that most organizations are offering a hybrid cloud, combining the best of both worlds from the public cloud and private cloud. Ideally, the hybrid approach allows a business to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness that a public cloud computing environment offers without exposing mission-critical applications and data to third-party vulnerabilities.

Benefits of Private Cloud Computing

The most compelling benefits of private cloud computing are:

  • Mobility and access—simple and secure access whenever you want, wherever you are.
  • Scalability—allows seamless scalability for your business.
  • Data security—allows companies to maintain sovereignty and control of access to data.
  • Offsite data backup—ensures data is safely backed-up on an off-site location.
  • Client device independence—enables the use of employees’ mobile device(s), without compromising security.
  • Resource sharing—ensures organizational efficiency.
  • Reduced workload for IT administrators—usage of built-in automation tools.
  • Business agility—using virtual servers, IT administrators can quickly scale-up capacity as required and deploy new applications quickly, without the need to build and test hardware.
  • Uptime and reliability—business-critical applications can be kept by applying SLAs so they continue to operate during an outage, while less important services can be supported costeffectively in the public cloud.
  • Capital expenditure—the cost for constant hardware and software upgrades is eliminated, reducing IT-related expenditure.
  • Fast ROI—as IT costs are reduced, IT processes are improved, making the organization run more efficiently.

Creating a Private Cloud

Once the benefits of private cloud computing are understood, the right model must be selected to fit business needs. There are several questions that have to be answered in order to setup a private cloud:

  • Should you build your own private cloud or use an MSP and a virtual private cloud?
  • What platform will be used to create the infrastructure?
  • Can security threats be contained?
  • How will threats be managed?

The platform. One of the main goals of cloud computing is to provide uninterrupted service to users. To do so, there are numerous hardware and hypervisors available to choose from to build a platform. The major hypervisor platforms—VMware, Hyper- V and Citrix—are largely considered based on cost and features. With public clouds, like EC2, the platform is the product the provider is selling, making it a matter of choosing the right product.

Evaluating the product based on price and performance will be the main focus, but there are other factors to consider: network security, storage, disaster recovery procedures, service-level agreements (SLA), and the location of the facility.

With a private cloud solution, choosing the right platform is not only a matter of cost but also the skill set of the team. It’s also imperative to choose the right provider because contracts with the provider and the difficulties involved in changing providers can be considerable.

The storage. Cloud storage is usually in the form of a SAN which provides flexibility and scalability for customers. Other advantages include continuity of service, disaster recovery and security depending on the cloud model. These features can help customers meet regulatory requirements, and provide access to resources that are costly and require a skilled staff to implement. Providers may also offer backup services that can be replicated to alternate facilities.

The security. Securing data in the cloud requires substantial planning because security is an issue that has similar concerns for both private clouds and virtual private clouds. While the provider is responsible for network security in the virtual private cloud model, in both models, server security is the responsibility of the server administrator. This demonstrates the need to thoroughly choose a provider or have staff with the necessary skills to effectively secure corporate data.

A provider should be able to produce a comprehensive security strategy that meets industry standards, such as PCI and other specific standards related to the business, such as HIPPA. This may be a difficult challenge for staff to create in a private cloud due to the knowledge and equipment that may be required to achieve PCI compliance.

The administration. Administrating private clouds and virtual private clouds differ greatly. Private cloud administrators can directly use the hypervisor interface to configure all aspects of the virtual servers. Virtual servers provide administrators with tools to minimize server crashes and provide failover capabilities that are built into the hypervisor as well as snap shots and clustering for failover. These features can be configured to “roll back server” in the event of an operating system crash or hardware failure.

The evolution of private cloud computing is beginning to deliver on its promise, and many organizations have started to capitalize on the benefits. The cloud paradigm has some constant factors to account for in any scenario such as scalability, security, availability and cost transparency. Proper planning will ensure that organizational investments in private cloud computing are not crippled by unexpected downtime, sky rocketing costs or security breaches.

The Future of Computing: Local Desktop Computers are Dead

The significant improvements in display and processing technology have led to the massive use of mobile devices, including smartphones, tablets and netbooks, with a wide range of applications. Therefore, they move the server capacity to the hosted, private cloud and migrate to a leased rental model, also known as “Cloud as a Service” (CaaS).

Ultimately, various ISVs and IT providers will deliver their services to the cloud, and customers or enterprises will pick and choose the services they require for their private cloud.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of Security Today.

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