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True Security Threats in a Cloud Environment

CloudIf you’ve ever implemented a cloud application, you likely navigated a number of discussions surrounding cloud security. No doubt you had to do some fast talking to explain what IT professionals already know: the cloud is safer than many on-premise systems.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t security threats when you implement a cloud solution. The problems that are most likely to claim your data or infiltrate your network, though, don’t tend to be the types of issues that most people associate with cloud systems. Here are the security threats that you’ll want to protect against:

A lack of defined ownership: When you implement a cloud solution for the first time, it’s important to have a plan in place for who will oversee the security protection for each part of the technology. You’re likely to overlap with your provider in some areas, but it’s better to have the discussion and put a plan in writing, rather than discover later that you both thought one another was overseeing a certain aspect of security.

Shadow IT: With large corporations sometimes managing thousands of applications, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for employees to download an application onto the network without authorization. Likewise, they may be using a personal mobile device for business activities or vice versa. It’s almost impossible to eliminate every risk from Shadow IT, but it’s good to be aware and protect against this weak spot.

Compliance: The compliance standards currently in place were established when the cloud was largely conceptual. There’s so little guidance for how data should be stored and which types of data should not be mixed that it makes it challenging for any company to know how to make decisions related to storage.

Lack of physical access: Some companies are troubled by the idea that they don’t know exactly where their data is being physically stored. This is a concern particularly in the public cloud, where companies’ data may be stored in ways that they aren’t protected from potential problems with other enterprises. For instance, if a company’s data is seized by the government for legal reasons, an unrelated company may be unable to access their data, too.

Additions and updates: Any disruption in your cloud environment has the potential to allow for a security breach. Even if the update is simply to improve speed, you should take precautions against any possible security problems.

Planning for a migration to the cloud? Talk with the consultants at T2. We can help you walk through the entire security process, from evaluating your current situation to establishing protocols to protect against shadow IT. Give us a call to set up an initial appointment.

 

It’s Becoming Harder to Come up With Reasons Not to Choose Cloud

CloudWhen you first heard about replacing your on-premises software with a cloud solution, you likely had some of the common fears shared by other business decision makers. How could cloud storage safely guard your data? Wouldn’t you put your IT division out of a job? Where exactly was all your information going to be stored?

As cloud offerings have expanded and pioneering companies took the dive into cloud solutions, it has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible software environment, and a more secure storage option for your data in many situations. Here are a few of the reservations that are no longer limiting adoption, making the future of cloud technology even more promising:

Flexibility: Introducing a cloud solution into your software mix gives you a product that is easily adaptable to your business needs. As you hear about features that integrate well with your cloud system, implementation is just a phone call and a quick update away. Adding business units or completing an acquisition is no longer an IT nightmare with the flexibility of the cloud.

Cost: This is an area that requires caution. If you start asking around, you’re sure to hear a story of ballooning cloud costs that were a significant disappointment after promises of reduced software costs. Overall, though, you should experience some cost savings. Cloud solutions require little-to-no hardware investment and because they are subscription based, you’re never paying for extra users. Be prepared for ongoing support and subscription costs.

Staffing: Selling an IT team on a move to the cloud required a lot of fast talking at first. After all, why would an IT professional get excited about a software solution that might eliminate their job? The reality is that IT is still critical for supporting your software, but their roles pivot from managing updates and fixing glitches to optimizing the infrastructure and operations that support storage and manage bandwidth.

Security: You need to evaluate your cloud choice for its security features, but while this was formerly the biggest concern about a shift to the cloud, it’s not a problem for many who have adopted cloud software. In some cases, the security support exceeds anything a company can host with an on-premises storage solution.

Accessibility: One of the best features of cloud software is its accessibility for smaller enterprises. At first, it was assumed that the cloud would be championed by the big guys and then filtered down to smaller businesses, but small- to mid-size companies are experiencing access to the same great software tools at their own subscription size.

If you still have reservations about a transition to the cloud, talk to our consultants at T2. We can help you work through any concerns you have and ensure you have reliable network connectivity with access to the most advanced technology at prices that fit your company’s budget.

How Managed Services and Cloud Technology Can Compliment Each Other

Cloud TechnologyIt is becoming apparent that many MSPs in the marketplace today are making a distinction between cloud technology and managed services that is actually hindering rather than helping their bottom lines. The prevailing view seems to be that customers want to either go with managed services or want to make use of cloud technology solutions, and that these two types of service are in competition with each other.

The fact of the matter is that customers don’t generally care what’s going on under the hood, as long as they get where they want to go. Customers want solutions for their business problems, irrespective of the technology being used. Understanding that both managed services and cloud technology are complementary components of a comprehensive, customer-based solution strategy is key to opening up new, more agile business models to MSPs who want to remain competitive.

Cloud as a Core Component

Cloud technology, rather than being an outsourced add-on that MSPs can offer their clients, should be a core component and part of a robust and flexible suite of solutions available from the outset. There are some use cases best served by managed services, and others that are better dealt with by cloud services. Clever MSPs are increasingly able to offer both in-house, and are providing the option on a wider scale than their competition.

The problem with widening the scope of offerings in this way, some MSPs point out, is that cloud technology requires more clients than managed services to be financially viable. It’s generally accepted that a cloud services provider needs to engage more than the 50-100 clients to make managed services profitable. Many smaller MSPs aren’t prepared to or capable of expanding their operation to accommodate the increase in client base.

Making a Larger Customer Base Work

There are ways to make a larger customer base work without significantly increasing the scale of operations:

  • Specialize in niche areas of cloud services such as security or compliance
  • Focus on high-growth areas such as application development
  • Be willing to branch out into new technologies and ecosystems
  • Run as efficient an operation as possible by making use of professional management tools
  • Identify the elements that can still be outsourced to reduce costs and inefficiencies as much as possible.

Running a lean, focused operation is an effective way to be able to offer clients as diverse an array of complementary services as possible while maintaining solid profitability.

The Explosive Growth of the Cloud

Cloud GrowthThe IT landscape is shifting, and cloud services aren’t just center stage – they’re overwhelming the stage.

The Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Spending Guide, a publication of market intelligence firm IDC, analyzed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) spending numbers across various global markets and a range of industries. The findings are clear: with a 2017 spending increase of 24.4% over 2016, cresting $120 million worldwide, cloud growth outstrips all other IT growth by a factor of seven. And the rate of growth is forecasted to remain high — above 20% per year through 2020.

SaaS Domination

Cloud computing is still dominated by SaaS applications, though there’s no guarantee that SaaS will remain the flagship offering of the cloud. SaaS represents about two-thirds of current cloud spending, but its growth is slower than IaaS and PaaS trajectories: through 2020, PaaS is expected to grow at a rate of 30.1% each year, while IaaS outstrips it at 32.2% annually.

Adoption by Industry

Not all industries are seeing equal cloud adoption. Manufacturing, professional services, and finance are forecasted to spend the most on cloud services, accounting for around a third of all cloud spending. The professional services industry also leads the pack in cloud growth, with a spending rate growing by almost 24% per year.

Cloud Spending

Despite the potential expense of moving large organizations (and entrenched infrastructure) to the cloud, companies with over 1,000 employees aren’t shy about migration: they account for over half of all cloud spending, and their spending rate is increasing faster than companies with fewer employees.

Global Cloud

Generating almost two-thirds of all global cloud revenue, the United States is the largest current public cloud market – though the Asia/Pacific region (Japan not included) and Latin America are each growing at faster rates: Asia/Pacific at 28%, and Latin America at 26.6% annually. In fact, globally, the US has one of the slowest cloud growth markets, increasing at a rate just shy of 20% per year.

As the market matures, it’s likely that previously untapped markets will come to regard the cloud as an essential piece of infrastructure. In particular, European markets have been more resistant to cloud adoption than those in the US, but they show healthy growth which is forecasted to continue through the end of the decade.

Domestically and worldwide, for large companies and small, the cloud is growing – and it’s not predicted to stop any time soon.

Making the Right Choices in the Cloud

shutterstock_328634297While it may be true that cloud services are not the perfect solution for all business computing needs, almost every business has at least some applications for which cloud is, indeed, the best solution. Premises-based solutions will continue to become less prevalent as time goes on. The focus of cloud services on scalability, efficiency, and flexibility is the primary driver of the move away from premises-based computing.

The biggest problem with traditional solutions is that in order to maintain capacity for peak loads, it’s necessary to maintain a great deal more computing resources than are needed the rest of the time. Overspending becomes a necessity. There is also the onerous process required to upgrade server capacity or other infrastructure.

Cloud solves these problems admirably by placing the onus for hardware purchasing and maintenance on someone else’s shoulders. There are three ways in which cloud services can be deployed, each serving a slightly different set of needs.

SaaS

Software as a Service (SaaS) involves the hosting of individual business applications in the cloud, to be accessed remotely by end users. The business has no control over the environment in which the application ‘lives’ under this model.

PaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides all the infrastructure, management, development, and deployment tools a business needs to create and maintain their own software applications.

IaaS

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) consists of hardware and other components (networking, storage, servers, and software) and gives businesses more control over the system than SaaS.

One of the most difficult aspects of moving to the cloud is not deciding what type of service a business needs, but rather what parts of the business can best utilize the cloud in the first place.

What Not to Move

Business critical applications should certainly not be among the first to transition to a new environment. Nor should any applications where performance is touchy, or that require intensive number crunching. Any system with a high level of complexity and tight integration with multiple apps should also probably wait until the organization has more cloud experience.

What Should be Moved

Non-critical systems are a good first step, including departmental applications where a smaller number of people will be affected by growing pains. Email servers and other well-established and easy to maintain apps are also likely candidates.

Other Considerations

Before making the jump into the cloud, it’s important to consider a few other details:

  • What are the company’s requirements for a service level agreement (SLA)?
  • Is a service provider able to provide the required level of security with the type of cloud model that fits the business’s other needs?
  • Do any of the apps that will be hosted in the cloud have special requirements?

The cloud isn’t more difficult to understand than on-site resources; it’s the same, only different. The differences can, however, complicate individual situations and turn wrong decisions into costly mistakes. Contact us for help simplifying the complicated.

 

Cut Through the Confusion to Understand the Benefits of the Cloud

shutterstock_127598501One of the most powerful benefits of cloud computing is that it creates a virtual work environment that can accommodate an increasingly distributed workforce.

More and more employees work in the field or from remote locations, which creates challenges when team members must work together. The cloud facilitates collaboration among employees in different locations by allowing them to access common data and applications wherever they are.

Businesses of all sizes are embracing the cloud to capitalize on this and other benefits, including the ability to access files on different devices. But many companies, especially small businesses, remain confused about what cloud computing is and if it’s the right choice for their company.

Cloud Benefits

Any major shift in IT operations deserves careful consideration and evaluation of its pros and cons. Following are three major benefits to consider when contemplating a move to the cloud.

Scalability. A business considering an investment in IT assets should assess which assets are currently needed, as well as how much capacity is necessary to meet existing demands. Further, planning for long-term needs is equally important.

Determining current needs is not too difficult, but understanding future requirements is a different story. The downside to guessing incorrectly is overspending for capacity that is never needed, or underspending and having to buy additional equipment later when the budget might be unavailable.

The cloud offers a tidy solution for companies that prefer not to roll the dice on predicting future requirements. When buying into a cloud service, companies can purchase the capacity and services they know they need now and then scale up or down later to meet future needs. The cloud also allows companies to adjust to operational peaks and valleys by allowing them to purchase capacity on an as-needed basis.

Simplified Project Management. In today’s electronic world, documents and files move easily among people and devices. Yet files and applications are still largely decentralized. Cloud services allow companies to centralize their data and applications, which allows for increased collaboration among employees and easier project management.

Document and correspondence history are stored and automatically updated, tasks can be created and tracked, and calendars can be generated to keep project members up to date. These tools can eliminate less efficient manual project management tools that require multiple platforms, such as spreadsheets and even handwritten notes.

The Bottom Line. Saving money usually tops the list of goals for any company looking to make an IT system change, and cloud computing offers several opportunities to realize cost efficiencies.

  • Eliminating capital expenditures on expensive physical equipment and software is a huge cost savings from day one.
  • Cloud services can eliminate some costs associated with employing in-house staff to maintain equipment.
  • Cloud computing services often provide a predictable and manageable pay-as-you-go billing model that is easier to fit into a budget than a large purchase of in-house equipment.

While many companies have already made the jump to cloud computing, some companies are waiting on the sidelines, trying to sort out fact from fiction. In reality, the cloud provides several potential benefits worth considering.

There are a number of cloud models to evaluate when making a cloud decision. Understanding the company’s current requirements and future goals will help determine the best path toward unlocking the potential of the cloud for any business.

Finding the Silver Lining in the Cloud

shutterstock_92683114With cloud services continuing to blanket the market, analysis paralysis has truly set in for countless clients and agencies. Cloud computing and storage is the next big thing, and the overabundance of services has resulted in a quagmire of uncertainty and endless options. No truer is this than when it comes to finding the right vendors to meet a company’s needs. The only way for a business to tackle this challenge is to focus on one clear and simple cloud goal.

 

The Cloud Dilemma

Cloud-based services are now visible in several industries and applications. From digital cable to telecommunications, it is next to impossible to keep up with all of the changes and developments. From Cisco and Microsoft to NEC and Shoretel, there are now over 40 different ways to utilize and implement cloud services on-site or from remote locations. As such, it can be overwhelming for a business to effectively analyze and assess which services meet its goals. Additional complications include:

  • new cloud products, services, and changes happening at a moment’s notice,
  • cloud services evolving based on existing industry trends and changes,
  • shifts within the landscape that are affecting how cloud experts offer services to clients, and
  • clients possessing little to no knowledge of cloud benefits.

With seismic shifts happening in the cloud industry at rapid rates, only organizations that know precisely what they need are benefiting.

Cloud Cover

Sifting through the many cloud options available today can be an obstacle that limits productivity and performance. While it’s great for clients to carefully weigh their options and choices, selecting the right vendor has become a time-consuming and tedious process. In order to secure the best possible outcome, there are many factors to consider:

  • Company executives and staff must be on the same page to meet cloud initiatives and directives.
  • Effective and strategic planning is needed to find the right and most affordable cloud solutions for enterprises.
  • Businesses must take into account all potential opportunities, risks, expenses, and management challenges.

Only with these options and facets in mind can a sound and lasting decision be made about which cloud provider or service to attain.

Gray Clouds

Unfortunately, this level of strategic planning rarely takes place anymore. Many businesses simply do not have the time, and even having a solid management plan does not guarantee finding the right cloud solution. It can take several attempts along with trial and error to finally secure a cloud provider and achieve desired results.

By firmly establishing a single clear goal, clients can amend or modify solutions based on their particular needs and aspirations. Company objectives must be precise throughout the chain of command. Setting the simplest goal is the only way to truly find the silver lining in the cloud.

A Cloud Cost Assessment

shutterstock_156845033Many companies are turning to the cloud to gain access to scalable and flexible applications and services at a price they can afford. Cloud services offer companies several advantages they might not be able to purchase or implement on their own, including disaster recovery capabilities and the ability to increase or decrease usage or add and drop services based on their operational needs.

But while the advantages of transitioning to cloud-based services is enticing for a variety of reasons, it is wise to take a careful look beneath the surface to ensure the company’s needs and requirements will be met and that the true price point makes sense for the company’s budget.

Compliance Requirements

The first step in determining where a business wants to go is to figure out where it is starting from. When it comes to making a cloud transition, knowing a company’s current and future needs and requirements is crucial.

Early in the process, the company must understand what its compliance requirements are. In some vertical markets, data security regulations may require that certain data can’t be stored in the cloud. Understand from the outset if certain processes and data sets must be retained on private networks.

Personnel Requirements

A business should determine its IT personnel requirements and ensure the entire team is well versed, trained, and prepared for the transition process. Not being prepared with the right participation and knowledge could translate into higher costs.

Application Requirements

Finally, understand where current applications are in their life cycle. Certain legacy assets may not be supported by cloud-based solutions, and moving to the cloud while those applications are still needed could create a headache as well as additional costs. Transitioning to a cloud-based service is likely to be more cost efficient when it occurs at the natural end-of-life stage of applications, when upgraded products or services would have been necessary anyway.

Cost and Elastic Load Balancing

Once a company knows where it is and has figured out where it wants to go, it must then study the costs associated with getting from point A to point B. It can be difficult to compare costs among cloud providers as pricing models can vary widely.

Costs can be controlled to some extent by employing elastic load balancing, which involves shifting capacity between internal assets and cloud solutions. This can increase network efficiency and can lead to cost savings.

Cost and Usage

Monitoring usage is another key to getting the most out of a cloud solution. A predictable monthly fee does not necessarily mean resources are being used in a predictable and constant way. Train personnel to carefully monitor usage and remove unused space as soon as possible to ensure capacity isn’t wasted.

Making the Cloud Decision

The upfront and recurring costs associated with cloud-based services must be weighed against the competitive costs of not deploying cloud services. While one company may shy away from the cloud, its competitors may be turning cloud advantages into competitive advantages. Cost savings reaped from employing a cloud-based service can be passed on to consumers and help companies gain customers and market share.

But that doesn’t mean it’s wise to jump right into a cloud deployment. Understanding the company’s needs and requirements before heading down the cloud path will help ensure that the right cloud applications and services are being purchased at the right price.

Weighing Your Cloud Computing Choices

shutterstock_107141402Cloud computing continues to gain attention and momentum as companies learn about and experience the benefits of Internet-based solutions. The use of cloud solutions is increasing exponentially while traditional data center computing models are declining for the first time.

Virtualization via cloud computing creates business efficiencies, adds flexibility, increases server capacity, and provides companies with the benefits of distributed data. The positives of the cloud are universal and the cloud computing market has evolved to support four primary models for cloud deployments. Each model has its own benefits and drawbacks that must be weighed when making a cloud choice.

Keep It In-House

The idea of “the cloud” gives rise to images of equipment housed and data stored in some vague place. In reality, the cloud can reside within the physical confines of a company’s premises or at a private data center.

Private cloud solutions allow companies to provide the benefits of the cloud to employees while maintaining tight control over the network equipment and applications available to them. Companies with the resources to deploy the necessary equipment and maintain it over the life of the network may gravitate toward this option, especially if in-house control of assets is a primary concern.

Third-Party Options

Some companies, particularly smaller organizations or companies that only need the cloud for a limited time, may not have the resources or time to deploy and maintain an in-house private cloud network. For these companies, the ability to flip a switch and activate cloud services without the startup cost and work is attractive.

Public cloud offerings hosted and maintained by a third-party provider might be an ideal choice for this segment. The provider services many end users with the same resources, thereby aggregating the costs among those users and allowing each to pay only for what they need, when they need it.

The Best of Both Worlds

Many companies want the simplicity, flexibility, and scalability offered by public cloud solutions, but they are hesitant to cede such a high level of control to a third party. Enter the hybrid solution, which gives companies the benefits of both models.

Using a hybrid approach, a company can still tap the resources and benefits built into the public cloud model while retaining some control within the company. This model allows a company to adjust the network to meet its changing needs. Companies can also use a hybrid approach to offload traffic during peak usage on the private network temporarily to the public cloud.

Community Cloud

A relatively new concept, the community cloud model allows equipment to be hosted either privately or publicly. Companies may use this model to test public-cloud products and features. Within this model, servers do not have to be dedicated to specific users, but can be logically segmented among several end users while maintaining the security of a dedicated environment.

Making the Choice

Choosing the right model will depend on each company’s business environment and needs as well as the type of data that will be hosted on the network. A careful evaluation of the company’s needs and how each cloud model might fulfill those needs is crucial when deciding how to deploy cloud services.

Delivering Business Solutions through Hybrid Cloud and Workload Automation

shutterstock_280634069Businesses today demand IT functionality that ensures continuity and offers adaptable data capacities in a cost-effective format. For many companies, cloud technologies that employ as-a-service solutions meet that need.

However, security concerns and data sovereignty regulations have held many organizations back from embracing public cloud solutions. Instead, they have preferred to retain data applications in on-premise servers, which they view as more secure.

Ultimately, though, on-premise solutions are not a cost-effective choice for most organizations. There’s just too much data. These businesses should look to hybrid cloud solutions for the answer to their needs.

The Hybrid Answer

As data amounts expand, businesses need actionable methods for collecting, storing, processing, and analyzing that data. They need retrieval methods that conform to the industry and to the operational standards they’ve developed.

Hybrid cloud solutions, which combine public and private cloud, that operate from a centralized system offer the agility and cost-savings that businesses need in today’s competitive global marketplace. When companies begin the process of hybrid cloud adoption, however, creating numerous workloads in separate silos makes it nearly impossible–without advanced automation–to control the thousands of applications and services that are running. Advanced automation can ease these pain points.

Processing Evolution

Technology trends such as mobile, cloud, big data, and social collaboration tools drive the expansion of transactions. Businesses need high-performing integration between systems of engagement and record. Shifting from batch processing, which was largely time-based, to automated processing, which is largely event-based, allows businesses to perform these tasks more efficiently.

Data center automation that encompasses server, database, network, and workload automation essentially provides the solution. This single, centralized system replaces multiple schedulers and is deployed within a hybrid cloud solution. Companies can utilize it to control all of their applications from a policy-driven perspective.

The Hybrid Cloud Solution

With a hybrid cloud solution, companies can achieve workload automation. The centralized system streamlines activities like big data analysis and the automation of ad-hoc processes, whether they originate from calendars, events, or self-service triggers. The controlled system allows for companies to deliver accurate information to the business’s many stakeholders: clients, suppliers, customers, employees, etc.

Hybrid cloud solutions enable automation processes like these:

  1. The ability to forecast job processing time.
  2. The ability to control the actual processing.
  3. The ability to implement provisions that allow alternate processing platforms to meet capacity needs.

Benefits of Workload Automation

Hybrid cloud solutions facilitate these requirements by allowing companies to run specialized modules of software solutions that control processing requirements according to application types under the control of workload management. Traditional job-scheduling cannot accomplish these tasks.

Workload automation increases business flexibility in the following ways:

  • It breaks down silos so that companies can access and analyze the right data– when and where it’s needed.
  • It integrates systems of record and engagement.
  • It enables new features to be quickly added, such as location-based mobile applications.

In addition, workload automation ensures that companies conform to data protection and other government and industry compliance regulations within the hybrid cloud environment.

With a stable internal workload automation process and hybrid cloud solutions, businesses can develop scalable, end-to-end systems automation approaches that provide true cost reductions.