Joel Wineland is Senior Product Developer at Rackspace Hosting.
Businesses looking to exploit the cloud environment need to ensure that their cloud is theirs and theirs alone. Security, performance and interoperability of the cloud environment should be at the top of every data center’s checklist when considering how best to leverage cloud resources.
Cloud computing, though rapidly coming into its own, is a term that is almost as vague and effluvial as its namesake. The cloud essentially means “Internet resources” – offering so many varied benefits that it’s really up to the data center to define what suits its business purposes. Businesses can use the cloud to offset their IT investment, enabling a focus on mission critical work in the data center or – at the other end of the spectrum – leverage cloud resources to automatically handle whatever workload is required.
Regardless, there are several “checkboxes” that the data center needs to consider to optimize business value.
Security - Define and identify your security requirements, even down to the seemingly obvious: the password complexity, the timeframe for changing a given password, and user account name complexity requirements. What pieces of the data set are managed differently due to compliance concerns or other considerations? What mandates does the data center have from business units that define internal processes requiring special handling of data?
Some fundamental principles apply. Ensure that your information is not accessible by others. This assurance comes from encryption in the cloud environment – both encryption for data “in flight” between your environment and the cloud, and ensuring that the cloud environment itself is stable and secure so that no other customer within the boundary of that cloud can access or otherwise compromise your data.
Also consider federating user credentials or authorization criteria between the data center and the cloud environment to provide assurance that the right user is accessing the right resource and that, as more cloud options are added, new credentials are created and managed seamlessly and easily. One option is to subscribe to a single cloud authentication service that provides authentication frameworks for many different sites, randomizes passwords, etc., so that if a cloud sub-site were compromised, the issue wouldn’t transfer to other cloud sub-sites directly and risk impacting the business overall.
Interoperability – While in its infancy, it is important to consider federating management and monitoring systems to minimize the difference between the internal IT environment and the cloud environment. At the most basic level, ensure that your cloud hosting vendor can provide alerts when your servers are at risk. Specify the minimal amount of time in which you must have actionable information. If all of your service has to exist within a certain zone, find out if you can get generalized service monitoring and reporting for everything within that zone so that you can have visibility to “down” trends that might ultimately compromise your capability to do business.
Typically this type of information is available as SNMP alerts or other routable types of traffic. Find out how you extend your network into the cloud framework to allow that information to get to you. Can you use software resources to provide that network federation? Is it possible to combine your network with the cloud hosting environment so that some of the services available in your environment are also available in the cloud environment?
These kinds of decisions are the user’s responsibility to a large degree. Cloud providers aren’t going to manage resources that are used in the data center, so it is the data center’s job to ensure that the resource is compatible with what the cloud provides, that those resources are constantly available in your environment and that your users have access to the services.
Performance – Ensure that performance is maintained at an acceptable level so that users don’t experience significant lags when they are trying to carry out a particular task. The cloud should not be a performance detriment to the overall ability to do business.
A traffic accelerator that optimizes the throughput between two sites and allows you to accelerate the data center-to-cloud resource combination is one good solution.
Also ask your cloud provider a number of pointed questions about how much bandwidth they can offer, what their general latency is, whether they have sites in your region, if your region fails where do sites failover, and other considerations for performance in a given service construct.
The enormous flexibility of cloud hosting is one of its greatest benefits. These three guiding principles – security, interoperability and performance – provide a useful checklist in helping ensure that your cloud performs exactly as you want it to.
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