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Approach Cloud like a New Car Purchase

Do your homework when it comes to the cloud. Sensible preparation will help you to take the right approach to cloud

Do your homework when it comes to the cloud. Sensible preparation will help you to take the right approach to cloud.

The last thing anyone wants is for their cloud to crash. And after recent hits to major services, it seems everyone has a revelation to share. Some folks have compared cloud to airplanes. The idea is that you're safer in a plane than a car, but when it goes down it will go down spectacularly, and the impact will be more widespread. Statistically speaking that's true, so I can certainly see the correlation.

As with airlines, in using a cloud you're putting a great deal of trust in the service provider. However, you can't select a cloud service provider the way you would choose an airline, where getting the cheapest flight is the driving factor for most people. Before purchasing their ticket, no one ever demands to see the safety record of the airline or the particular plane they're entrusting to get them to their final destination.

But, flip it around and look at the purchase process for an automobile. Before making your decision, you research the reliability and safety features of different models; you look up the safety rating; and you check out what others have said. Now that's where cloud is more like a car - or at least it should be.

Just as today's drivers are much better informed regarding the reliability and safety of the cars they buy, you should do your homework when it comes to the cloud. Sensible preparation will help you to take the right approach to cloud computing, to manage risks and fully realize the benefits that cloud offers.

Businesses worry about losing control and risking more downtime once data and applications move to the cloud. A recent Symantec survey found that the CFO, CEO and CIO are quite cautious about moving mission-critical applications even to hybrid or private cloud environments, citing security, disaster recovery and lack of control, reliability, performance and a fear that meeting SLAs will be difficult or impossible as the main concerns. The fact is most risks associated with moving data and services to the cloud can be managed utilizing the same principles you apply to your on-premises IT infrastructure.

Airlines are strictly monitored by an alphabet soup of governmental organizations - the FAA and NTSB in the US and EASA in Europe. Meanwhile, the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), NIST, SNIA , ENISA and others have put forth cloud security and availability standards for cloud computing. However, since there is not yet a universally agreed upon standard metric of confidence for cloud computing service providers, it is incumbent on you, the consumer of the cloud service, to do your due diligence before cutting that check and driving off the lot with your new ‘vehicle.'

Whether you're considering private cloud, hybrid cloud or public cloud adoption, these recommendations from Symantec will help to keep things running smoothly and prevent outages as you leverage the cloud.

1. Know yourself. Be clear on why you are going to the cloud. Improved mileage, better reliability, more room, or simply a sporty look during a midlife crisis - the reasons to buy a new car are wide ranging. You may be looking to be more agile in deploying apps, have an executive mandate, prefer OPEX to CAPEX, or simply be out of room in your data center. Don't kid yourself and be crystal clear on your rationale and objectives for moving to the cloud.

2. Know your alternatives. Perhaps you can work at home, ride share or take the train. Perhaps a used car or leasing a car makes more sense than buying. Know the real costs of delivering services yourself instead of via a cloud service provider - including the costs of compute, storage, network, application and security. Not all services make business sense to move to the cloud all the time.

3. Precious cargo on board. Downtime has consequences. In business, your critical systems are vital to your success; protecting them and making certain they're always available is a big factor. Consider RTO (recovery time objective, or how long you can go without that app being available) and RPO (recovery point objective, or the amount of data you could afford to lose). The lower the RTO and RPO are, the more mission-critical that system is. Hosting less-important services in the cloud will reduce your costs while posing minimal risk of business interruption in the event of outage.

4. Look under the hood. You wouldn't purchase a car without looking under the hood and researching its reliability and features. Don't be afraid to ask cloud providers about the technology behind the service. Make sure you know where your data resides, and what your recovery and backup options are. You will rely on your SLA to resolve issues; make sure you negotiate a favorable agreement and make sure that it has real consequences for failure.

5. Take it for a test drive. If you're looking at a public cloud solution, one of the key advantages of SaaS is that it makes it easy to deploy a free trial, and most vendors offer this to those considering their services. Start small with the trial, and once you're satisfied you can expand the service to include confidential data and other mission-critical systems.

6. Have a maintenance plan. In case there is a failure, be ready. Simply because you drive a safe vehicle doesn't mean you should cancel your roadside assistance. Stuff happens, be prepared with a plan to mitigate a failure. One of the best ways to maximize uptime is by testing your disaster recovery system in advance, to find any configuration problems that leave you vulnerable, just as you should inspect your car regularly to identify impending problems. Non-disruptive DR testing will allow you to identify issues your system has, without interrupting the availability of services for your clients and employees. Implementing a disaster recovery assessment tool is one of the best ways to ensure minimal loss of data and service.

While recent events have affected public perception of cloud computing, and potentially the rate of adoption, they shouldn't send anyone running for the hills. Just as you need to do your homework when buying a car, proper research and planning is vital to make cloud computing as reliable as possible-whether you are implementing a private, public or hybrid cloud.

More Stories By Dave Elliott

Dave Elliott is responsible for Global Cloud Marketing at Symantec. In his role, he drives market strategy for security and availability solutions from Symantec designed to help companies that build or use cloud services. Dave was an early advocate of cloud computing while at Sun Microsystems in the 1990s, and has spent his career helping companies understand and embrace emerging technologies. Dave is an active member of the Cloud Security Alliance and participates on the CSA Solution Provider Advisory Council.