We hear a great deal about the benefits of cloud with many touting dynamic scalability and revenue expenditure models as valuable reasons to turn to the cloud. Whilst this may be true for some, businesses need to take the time to look at their own unique circumstances and consider if they are really ready for the cloud.

There are a lot of inevitable infrastructure questions, but moving to the cloud is not just about the network, it’s about the business and this should therefore form the basis of all decisions relating to the cloud.

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So what do businesses need to consider before looking to the cloud?

First and foremost, businesses need to consider their organisational needs and suitability for the cloud. What applications are they using? How mission-critical are their workloads? What sort of data are they using?

A video production company which regularly works with large file sizes may find the bandwidth required to transfer those files is too large for their internet connection so cloud is unlikely to prove an effective solution. Conversely, a retail business which experiences small, but regular, windows of peak demand, may benefit from the dynamic scale cloud can offer.

Equally, a strongly sales-focused business may benefit from a more SaaS-focused model, using the cloud for specific line of business applications such as CRM, email and voice systems.

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Whilst there are significant benefits to be found in the cloud, it is important to recognise that it does not provide a universal solution. Just as traditional data centres present a specific set of problems to be resolved, so too does cloud. In changing the landscape of an organisation’s network infrastructure, virtual environment and risk profiles, cloud presents a new set of circumstances for which the implications must be understood.

Security in the cloud

Let’s begin with a look at security. A business considering a move to the cloud needs to consider how they will apply the security policies used in their on-premise environment, when out in the cloud.

For instance, there are many ways to extend security into the cloud using federation and single sign-on (SSO).This means that when a user logs on to their machine, the username and password entered are used to confirm their identity, granting access to any SaaS applications as well.

Not only does this make life easier for the employees, it also means a company can maintain central governance of their security policies across multiple cloud platforms, managing access policies based on user profiles. This is very important to businesses where industry based or ISO based compliance controls are in place.

Understanding the role of Software Defined Networking (SDN) – extending the network into the cloud

By now, it goes without saying that virtualisation is a key enabler in the move to the cloud. What is less well known is the role that SDN plays in the process.

SDN provides the ability to seamlessly blend the on-premise network to the cloud. Workloads can already be moved across separate network IP ranges, but the integration isn’t as clean as it might be, with separate IP ranges in play.

SDN has the potential to allow virtual machines to move between on premise and the cloud

SDN, however, has the potential to allow virtual machines to move between on premise and the cloud. This makes location of compute and storage services irrelevant, even to the people managing the network, whether workloads are running locally or in the cloud, the user experience is the same and the delivery process is seamless.

For businesses with bespoke applications, built to manage complex business processes, this level of integration could be key to cloud success. Ensuring that the on-premise and cloud network are one fabric removes much of the complexity around application provisioning and provides much greater levels of flexibility.  This may also influence a company’s choice of cloud provider as the need for networking expertise alongside cloud knowledge becomes even more imperative.

Other infrastructure-based issues to consider when looking to the cloud are internet latency and WAN optimisation. Businesses reliant on WAN optimisation in on premise environments (used to improve their application response times) may need to consider alternative optimisation options in the cloud. Finding a partner who can deliver this as part of their cloud offering could be vital to ensure the level of user experience is maintained.

The impact on compliance

Finally, let’s consider the, sometimes overlooked, issue of compliance. Some compliance issues are general across all businesses whilst others are industry specific. Government regulated industries may face restrictions based on the classification of information, while online stores must adhere to Payment Card Industry compliance mandates.

Such regulations may restrict use of the cloud but they may not prevent it across all business applications. The trick is to know the rules and assign protocols accordingly.

The trick is to know the rules and assign protocols accordingly

Privacy and movement of data are also important issues to be aware of. A company based within the EU, which provisions cloud services from a supplier whose data centre is housed in the US, would currently be in breach of regulations restricting the movement of data outside the EU.

Another common pitfall relates to the issue of licensing. It is important to remember that every server, whether physical or virtual, needs a software licence. It is all too easy to overlook this issue in the virtualised world where a VM can be flexibly provisioned at will, but each server will still need to be covered by a license.

It is likely, with the ongoing growth of the cloud and progression of technology, that regulations will change further in coming months and years so businesses need to keep abreast of the latest compliance regulations and amend their processes accordingly.

The hybrid advantage

Arguably the biggest advantage cloud gives us is its flexibility. Every business faces different challenges and cloud offers the flexibility to meet these challenges on an individual basis, be it through a single SaaS application or a full infrastructure model. With a host of cloud brokers emerging in the market, businesses can obtain expert advice to assist them in the provision of IT services across all of the various operating models.