Cloud infrastructure and services are a hot topic these days. Whenever you look within Information Technology (IT), terms of “virtualized hardware” and “hybrid” environments can be found. The concept of cloud computing started approximately 60 years ago with the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), which allowed remote computers to share information. The cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is already 16 years old. The point is that cloud computing is not a new topic; however, it has recently become a major talking point for increased efficiency, security, and network resiliency regarding infrastructure.
The big push comes from the advancements in technology itself. Everyday technology and methodologies are advancing that help shape cloud computing and what cloud computing can offer to businesses and governments. Some of these advancements include serverless technology, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), open-source technology, DevSecOps processes, Internet of Things (IoT), and edge computing. All these terms will be seen when you work with a cloud solution at some point during an integration.
The Greener Side of Cloud
Many IT professionals will be onboard when it comes to the cloud. Cloud offers many benefits without exorbitant costs and can be worked on anywhere the technician has a laptop or smartphone. Here are some of the main advantages of choosing to move to a cloud environment.
Access from Anywhere
The main component of cloud computing is that the servers housing your information are offsite. The servers with your company’s information sit in a building, often in a low-risk area from natural disasters, to keep uptime at a maximum. Because the servers can be in another state or even country, the infrastructure is built to support your device’s connection to the remote server as quickly or more quickly as if hardwired onsite. The idea of access from anywhere allows employees to complete their jobs from anywhere. The big remote worker movement spurred by the pandemic supported the need for cloud environments for employees to access information without reporting to work.
From a technician’s point of view, any issues that arise within the environment can be remoted into and mediated. The technician will not need to bring a device to a server room or use the interface on a server to troubleshoot any issues. If an emergency happens at 3 a.m., they can walk to their desk at home, log into the service, and take steps to solve the issue from home.
As with any technological advancement within the workplace, budgets are always a factor. Fortunately, cloud computing can check this box when done responsibly. Cloud computing/services work on the pay model for what you use. Do you need a server spun up to do some data analytics? You pay for the instance, transactions, and storage requirements. Often, this can start as low as a thousandth of a cent per X amount of data processed. While large projects can accrue much more expenses, it will often be cheaper than purchasing servers, racks, cabling, power sources, and everything else needed to house a server room.
This brings us to the subsequent cost savings. With cloud computing, there is minimal, if any, hardware to purchase. When you have an onsite infrastructure, you must use your best estimates of what hardware and how much will be needed in the future. This can lead to costly overestimation, which leaves companies with hardware they never used but paid for. If you underestimate, companies will find themselves hurrying to order more hardware and losing out on productivity once the new equipment is installed. As mentioned, cloud computing takes this out of the equation by paying for only what is used.
Better Security Footprint
While no technology is free from cybersecurity threats, cloud environments could improve a company’s security posture. A huge benefit of cloud computing is having centralized management regarding security. Patches, vulnerability remediation, and updates can all be controlled by management tools and distributed to all devices on the cloud network. A centralized management tool helps prevent configuration drift and ensures all updates are the same across the organization. More advanced cloud setups remove the human factor altogether and have automation in place to keep systems up to date and remediate and predict when a possible attack may occur. Any previous attacks entered by the security team are stored in the security tools and used later to help defend the network (e.g., storing IP addresses of earlier threats and blocking them).
Cloud computing also introduces zero-trust architecture (ZTA). ZTA treats everyone within a network or system as an intruder. Permissions are only given for specific roles and nothing more. A person can no longer log in with credentials and access everything on the network. ZTA will help prevent the leakage of information and personnel or attackers accessing systems they do not need to access.
Data Loss Prevention
A big issue with having your servers onsite is the possibility of having the hardware destroyed. This can happen through natural disasters, overheating/fires in the server room, and sabotage. With cloud computing, the same threats could happen to those servers; however, cloud infrastructure has the advantage of replication and failover. Many cloud computing companies will have their information backed up to multiple servers across different regions. Best practices will have snapshots taken at specific intervals and stored within a database for use if needed. Virtual routing technologies can detect when a location has gone down and instantly reroute data and/or people to the backup servers. The failover and replication capabilities ensure your data stays safe and is always available.
Accessibility and Flexibility: Access data and applications from anywhere with an internet connection. Enables remote work and collaboration, enhancing productivity and flexibility.
Automatic Updates and Maintenance: Cloud providers handle server and software maintenance, ensuring systems are up-to-date and secure.
Collaboration and Integration: Cloud ecosystems often support easy integration with third-party services and APIs. Collaboration tools facilitate teamwork and information sharing.
Compliance: Many cloud providers offer compliance certifications and tools to help meet regulatory requirements in various industries.
Cost Predictability: Predictable and transparent billing models make managing and budgeting IT expenses easier.
Cost Savings: Pay-as-you-go pricing models allow businesses to pay only for the resources they use, reducing capital expenditure. Elimination of hardware and maintenance costs, including data center expenses. Scalability and flexibility to adjust resources up or down as needed, reducing over-provisioning.
Disaster Recovery: Cloud platforms offer built-in disaster recovery options and backup solutions. Data replication and failover capabilities help ensure data integrity and business continuity.
Environmental Benefits: Reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint compared to on-premises data centers.
Geographic Reach: Cloud providers have data centers in multiple regions and countries, allowing businesses to efficiently serve global customers.
Innovation and Agility: Cloud environments provide access to a wide range of services and tools for development, analytics, machine learning, and more. Quick deployment of new applications and features can accelerate innovation.
Reduced IT Management Overhead: Fewer on-premises hardware and reduced IT staff for maintenance and troubleshooting.
Reliability and Availability: Cloud providers typically offer high uptime guarantees, reducing the risk of downtime. Data is often replicated across multiple data centers for redundancy.
Resource Optimization: Auto-scaling, load balancing, and other features help optimize resource utilization and improve performance.
Scalability: Cloud environments can easily scale up or down to meet changing workloads and demand, ensuring optimal resource allocation.
Security: Cloud providers invest heavily in security measures and compliance certifications. Access controls, encryption, and authentication features enhance data security.
The Not-So-Green Side of Cloud Computing
With any technology will come pitfalls, and cloud computing is not exclusive. Here are some of the pitfalls when moving to a cloud solution.
The Internet Service Provider (ISP) Holds the Key
It is difficult to connect to a server two miles away, let alone to another state with no Internet. The Internet is a single point of failure in a cloud environment. No connection means no cloud access. Even if there is a connection, the service at that time could be better, which can cause a miserable experience for anyone using the cloud environment. Natural disasters and unforeseen technical issues can affect services offered by ISPs, which affect a company’s access to its cloud environment.
A company may notice that its infrastructure’s cloud service provider (CSP) has specialized APIs, proprietary technologies, and non-standard data formats. When the company wants to shift to a different CSP, they find the move requires much more effort and costs than expected due to the particulars of the current CSP. This is called vendor lock-in. While the way cloud services work may be similar to CSPs, the tools used to manage the services can be drastically different. CSPs can handle data differently, resulting in the possible loss of data when the company moves to another CSP. The complexity of changing CSPs will increase depending on how much responsibility the CSP takes in the environment.
The Human Factor
Networks, including cloud-managed ones, are only as good as the people who build them. This is especially true when it comes to cloud security. Inexperienced / unknowledgeable professionals can easily make their cloud environment more susceptible to attackers. One of the easiest ways to protect an environment is with Multifactor Authentication (MFA). Often, turning on MFA is as simple as clicking a button and confirming devices through an authentication app. Unit 42 found that “76% of organizations don’t enforce MFA for console users, and 58% of organizations don’t enforce MFA for root/admin users.” Oversight on the security team to enforce MFA can lead to critical environment changes, whether intentional or not. Furthermore, lacking MFA could lead to account hijacking and data breaches.
Unit 42 also discovered that “63% of the codebases in production have unpatched vulnerabilities rated high or critical (CVSS >= 7.0), and 11% of the hosts exposed in public clouds have high or critical vulnerabilities.” An unpatched vulnerability is an open door for attackers to access systems. Attackers often look for “low-hanging fruit” and will take advantage of any missteps by the security team.
Complexity: Managing multiple cloud services, environments, and integrations can become complex, requiring skilled IT personnel and tools.
Compliance Challenges: Meeting specific regulatory and compliance requirements, especially in highly regulated industries, can be complex and may require additional effort and cost.
Cost Management: Expenses can escalate without proper monitoring and cost control.
Cost of Expertise: Employing or contracting experts with cloud expertise may be necessary, and this can be costly for organizations that lack in-house cloud knowledge.
Data Privacy and Ownership: Understanding where data is stored and who has access to it can be challenging, potentially leading to concerns about data privacy and ownership.
Data Residency and Jurisdiction: Data stored in the cloud may be subject to the laws and regulations of the region where the cloud provider’s data centers are located, potentially posing legal challenges.
Data Transfer and Latency: Applications may experience latency and performance issues when data is transferred to and from the cloud, particularly for latency-sensitive workloads.
Data Transfer Costs: Moving large volumes of data into or out of the cloud can incur significant data transfer costs, which may not be immediately apparent.
Dependency on Third-Party Providers: Organizations rely on cloud providers’ financial stability and service quality. Disruptions or issues with the provider can impact business operations.
Downtime and Availability: Cloud providers offer high availability but are not immune to outages, and downtime can impact business operations.
Lack of Control: Organizations may feel they have less control over infrastructure and services, which can be a concern for businesses.
Limited Customization: Cloud providers offer a range of pre-configured services, but customization options may be limited compared to on-premises solutions.
Network Dependency: Cloud services are dependent on internet connectivity. A loss of connectivity can disrupt access to data and applications.
Resource Sizing and Overprovisioning: Inadequate resource sizing or overprovisioning can lead to inefficiencies and higher costs.
Security Concerns: Data breaches and security incidents can occur, although cloud providers invest heavily in security measures. Data security remains a shared responsibility between the provider and the customer.
Vendor Lock-In: Over time, businesses may find it challenging to switch between cloud providers due to differences in services, data formats, and dependencies.
Do What’s Right for Your Situation
Just because cloud computing has been the big thing over the last decade or so does not mean you need to run out to a CSP and start building a cloud environment to replace your onsite environment. The best course of action is to decide why you want to move to a cloud environment. Does it make sense for the cost of hiring and training personnel to help build and administer the cloud infrastructure? Are you looking to automate your patching and updating of systems? Does the workload support the need to build a unique environment with scalability? Do you have trained personnel to operate the security side of cloud computing?
If you decide that cloud is right for you, that is great! We discussed several of the main benefits of cloud computing, which can help increase your network’s security, resiliency, and availability. Additionally, there may be cost savings depending on the services required for your business. Like any technology, there are pros and cons to adopting it. Just ensure you have safeguards in place from the onset to protect against cloud computing vulnerabilities.