Investing in the right future for the cloud

In the last decade we have seen cloud technology evolve from a useful competitive business tool to one of the key foundations of the business world. Migrating assets, application and infrastructure to the cloud is an underpinning objective for most digital transformation strategies, with the aim of creating a more agile and adaptable operation.

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While most businesses were already well along their cloud migration journey, the events of 2020 were a serious wake up call for those lagging behind. Gartner predicts global spending on public cloud services will grow to $332.3bn in 2021, up from $270 the previous year. It also anticipates almost half of all IT spending on system infrastructure, software and process outsourcing to shift from traditional solutions to the cloud by 2024.

A successful cloud strategy is about much more than investing a large amount of capital, however. Business and IT leaders now have a golden opportunity to not only increase their cloud adoption, but to consider how they can adapt their operations around cloud capabilities.

There is no one size fits all approach to the cloud, businesses in different sectors have different priorities and operational constraints. Some of these requirements have been a constant, though. Security has always been a high priority for areas like defense, or heavily regulated sectors like healthcare or finance for example, and low latency is essential for fast-paced sectors like those dealing in stock trading. In other cases, businesses have found their cloud needs rapidly evolving to, for example, accommodate a greatly increased remote workforce or a growing network of IoT devices.

Whatever the particulars of a business’ operations, there are several factors that universally dominate the cloud agenda for all organizations.

Balancing accessibility and security

Perhaps the greatest cloud challenge highlighted over the last year is the balancing act between accessibility and security.

Regardless of where they were at in the beginning of 2020, most businesses had to rapidly switch to a remote workforce. Their structure suddenly shifted from largely central locations with a high number of users to hundreds or thousands of individual locations with a userbase of one.

Each of these locations need to have the same level of accessibility for key assets, such as sensitive data or mission critical systems and applications. All users also need to be able to experience the same level of quality regardless of where they are working from. Remote workers need to have fast and reliable connections to cloud-based assets if they are to remain as productive as those heading into the office, and external-facing roles cannot afford bad connections that ruin customer interactions.

At the same time, businesses are now aware that more remote operations are naturally more vulnerable to cyber threats. For example, research estimates that 2020 saw the highest number of attacks yet against businesses in the UK as threat actors took advantage of the shift.

Many common remote connection tools provide attackers with opportunities, and remote workers are more susceptible to social engineering. Rapidly growing cloud infrastructure can also create security gaps and blind spots, particularly where there is a hybrid strategy with significant overlap with on-premises networks.

As organizations progress their digital transformation journeys and migrate more of their operations to the cloud, it becomes ever-more critical that they can adapt their security strategies to keep up. Crucially, a cloud breach also comes with even greater consequences, as attackers can rapidly move across the network and co-opt sharing and networking functions to spread their attack to other users.

Keeping costs under control

Furthermore, cloud-based Anything-as-a-service (XaaS) models can deliver powerful financial advantages for businesses, allowing them to quickly acquire new capabilities without the need for heavy upfront investments. XaaS shifts many capital expenditure costs into operating expenses, with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) enabling a firm to move fundamental networking and storage needs to the cloud and away from on-premises hardware.

However, while it has a high potential for providing cost savings, businesses are under pressure to ensure that their cloud investments are in the right area, and will see strong, measurable ROI. The increasing need to provide a high level of accessibility and security across multiple locations can be extremely costly if not approached in the right way.

Further, businesses will need to ensure they adopt a flexible strategy that can be easily adapted or scaled as their needs and the environment change. While it might be tempting to go for the lowest cost model possible, this can see costs go up drastically as dependency increases or major scaling changes are required.

The converging cloud

Accessibility, security, and cost challenges can also be exacerbated by multi-cloud and hybrid cloud strategies. Both approaches are extremely common: 92 percent of enterprises currently have a multi-cloud strategy, while 82 percent have some form of hybrid cloud network. Hybrid approaches are often a sign of a business that is still in the midst of a transition to the cloud, although many organizations have assets that they cannot move to the cloud for technical or legal reasons.

Multi-cloud strategies are often greatly preferred because of the increased flexibility and choice they offer. However, a successful multi-cloud strategy requires a seamless network experience for all users, regardless of which service they are using. More importantly, security must be ubiquitously applied across everything, with no gaps that can be discovered and exploited by threat actors.

One of the most effective ways to tackle these issues is to move things closer to the edge of the network, rather than relying on a central point. Delivering networking and security functions through the cloud at the source of the connection means that all locations can enjoy an equal level of accessibility and security, regardless of if they are in the central office or working remotely.

This is the core concept behind Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), an approach where multiple wide-area networking and security functions are grouped together and distributed through the cloud. A SASE approach can also address costing challenges, as the cloud delivery means that multiple separate locations can be secured without the need to invest in hardware or suffer lengthy and costly implementation times.

Implementing and maintaining a secure, accessible cloud that can scale at an affordable rate is essential for a successful digital transformation journey and transforming the network. While there is no one-size fits all approach for the cloud, a converged approach like SASE will enable organizations to hit these objectives and match their own unique operational needs.

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