- Cloud services allow for innovation, fast connectivity, cost savings and scalability.
- Organisations with strict regulatory and security requirements, however, have had to stay down on the ground.
- With disconnected solutions such as hybrid clouds and edge computing, there are now solutions for all.
In the last decade, cloud services have come into their own. These days, storing your hardware, software or data remotely via the internet offers fast connectivity, reduced IT costs, business scalability and continuity. Moreover, the investment needed to establish and run such data centres has diminished dramatically.
With abundant choices as to how to implement cloud, and a variety of types (public, private, community-based) and service models available (such as software, platforms or data logging) it would be easy to think that there is a cloud solution for every organisation.
But despite the great push towards the sky, there are companies for whom clouds signal rocky weather, rather than limitless capacity. For those dealing with top secret information, or those where connectivity from remote terrain is an issue, hosting hardware to store and access data through local networks has been the only option.
Enter the disconnected cloud.
Why staying down
For defence and law enforcement, hosting data in non-exclusive environments is often not allowed. Strict jurisdictional sovereignty controls demand exclusive data centre setups, and cloud providers managed by external parties, or public clouds that consist of a variety of businesses, can be a no go.
Defence forces face the additional challenge of location — troops deployed too far away or in isolated locations may not have access to high-speed cable, DSL or mobile. And if they do, they may not have suitable devices to connect.
Operational security can pose a significant risk. Critical infrastructure systems have always been a target for cyber criminals via denial-of-service attacks or disruption of operations creating mass outages of utility and telecommunication services. Storing critical IoT data in the cloud and pairing it to the internet therefore represents a much bigger risk than keeping it on the local corporate or isolated network.
Healthcare organisations face the same issue. From hospitals and clinics to indigenous outreach and research facilities, enhanced security, efficient management, low-latency processing and a modern application development are must-haves that publicly hosted cloud hasn’t always been able to provide.
It also goes without saying that there are some general risks shared by almost all organisations. Before adopting any type of cloud deployment models and services, factors such as data storage locations, personnel access and connection latency need to be assessed to reduce risks around possible security breaches and information leakage.
Bringing the cloud
Most enterprises with specific security and connectivity requirements rely on dedicated infrastructure, housing data and services in their own facilities and maintaining their setup. This requires a lot of know-how and potentially, money. The Pentagon, for instance, offered a US$10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to build its exclusive and secure enterprise cloud.1 The good news is that the cloud industry as a whole has recognised the nuances that are stalling adoption. Major cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud are answering industry-specific necessities with hybrid cloud and edge services. In short, these are:
- Hybrid cloud solutions which use on-premise infrastructure to run private clouds, where computer resources are made virtual in much the same way as those of public clouds. Based on the cloud product or provider chosen, the required infrastructure to host cloud services can be procured or leased from cloud providers or third-party hardware vendors.
- Distributed edge computing which brings computer and data storage resources closer to the location where it is physically needed, improving response times and saving bandwidth. This means branch offices or remote operations can process data closer to the source without the lag caused by data travelling to the data centre and back. This is perfect for retail locations or the manufacturing floor and isolated areas where intermittent connectivity or extreme temperature is an issue. It is especially useful in natural disaster scenarios where telecommunications infrastructure and power may be disrupted.
Hybrid cloud and edge computing services can be built, deployed, and run reliably across locations and boundaries. They provide the flexibility to address an organisation’s diverse computing and storage needs, while allowing access to the features of traditional cloud needed to securely innovate.
Cloud providers now offer multiple options that enable organisations to build their own private, autonomous clouds with connected or disconnected data centres. Microsoft Azure launched its Azure Stack services in 2016,2 followed by AWS’ Outposts3 and Google Anthos in 20184. IT infrastructure companies like IBM, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Cisco have also all floated their own products and services.5
All providers are slightly different and it’s worth looking into the use cases they are built to address before making a decision.
Here are a few key factors to consider:
- If you need to leverage existing hardware, check for compatibility to the cloud provider or third-party products.
- For the most consistent hybrid experience, consider infrastructure, applications and cloud offerings from the same provider.
- If flexibility is more important, look for a solution that is hardware agnostic, allowing you to use different services in a multi-cloud environment.
- Check that your operating system supports applications, virtual desktops, databases, and identity services via your chosen cloud.
- To deploy apps in a virtual environment, look for a hardware agnostic container-based approach (this means it will run anywhere no matter the hardware).
- Ensure your software licensing model is flexible, and can leverage non-licensed, open source environments.
- Make sure the provider you choose provides access to the range of cloud services you need.
- Consider the volume of data needed to process on-premise and edge location bandwidth requirements.
- Think through where your business’ edge locations are or will be and any dependencies on the geographical regions your cloud providers need to operate in.
- Understand data costs. Internet providers often charge for bandwidth and cloud providers can have ‘egress charges’ for moving data in and out of their clouds.
- What’s an acceptable latency? Remote data centres and edge applications will need a combination of networking technologies, from fibre to wireless.
- If you need to connect to public cloud platforms offered by other providers, check your chosen cloud provider has integration options to provide a single view of all your data.
- Can you manage both on and off premise environments via a single interface? Most providers come with services and multi-cloud management tools that extend on-premise to other public cloud platforms.
- Are there consistent DevOps processes in place to build, run and manage the cloud offerings on premise?
- Keep security considerations for remote data centres in mind. Conventional centres will have near-military-grade security, but an edge data centre in a rural area, unguarded, could be susceptible to break-ins or theft.
- Trade-offs will need to be made between vendor lock-in (ease of use of homogeneous products and services) and the ability to manage multiple vendors.
Many organisations are already investing in a hybrid cloud approach to take advantage of their on-premises investment and, at the same time, utilise cloud’s innovation, speed, performance and cost efficiencies. Airbus, for example, uses Microsoft Azure Stack6 for agility and innovation, and automakers such as Ford and BMW are using IBM/Red Hat’s OpenShift hybrid solution for self-driving vehicle development7. Startups such as EdgeMicro and Vapor.io are deploying their own ‘mini data centres’ that can be deployed to edge locations.8
For organisations in industries that have unique regulatory and policy requirements, a hybrid or disconnected approach will allow the benefits of automation, speed, performance and scalability of cloud with the security and physical proximity that they need.
Now that’s a silver lining.