Martin Walshaw, Senior Engineer at F5 Networks.
Being clever in the cloud is about transforming the way businesses deploy and manage applications. Firms that continually innovate and build a sustainable cloud strategy deliver significant value to customers and differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
So, how is it possible to effectively harness the cloud in all its incarnations? What does it take for an organisation to become a Cloud Climber? What does success look like?
Just ask First National Bank (FNB), which was recently named among the top 50 EMEA businesses innovating in the cloud, in the recent Top 50 EMEA Cloud Climbers Report.
It all starts by embracing effective cloud architecture methodologies to drive value across the business through to end customers, all while maintaining application security and data protection. Scalability, flexibility, automation and speed to market are just some of the attributes that define an organisation thriving at the forefront of cloud technology and demonstrating tangible, ongoing results.
FNB is delivering value to end customers through its free software-as-a-service (Saas) Instant Accounting offering, providing free accounting solutions to small and medium-sized business customers. First launched in 2013, FNB currently has more than 195,000 active Instant Accounting users and hopes to grow that to 500,000 users in the coming years.
A multi-cloud world
Businesses today need to move quickly and meet customer demand to be competitive. However, it is important to recognise while public cloud providers may guarantee the infrastructure security, it is the application owner that is responsible for data security. Some firms adopt a combination of on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, or SaaS to deliver applications. This approach offers greater flexibility but can also increase costs and management to secure applications across a wider range of environments.
In addition, enterprises need to avoid vendor lock-in to increase operational flexibility and make it much easier to build an effective cloud deployment strategy without having to change underlying network architecture. In this respect, many firms still struggle to achieve agility and efficiency or gain full control over IT and infrastructure.
According to a recent report by RightScale, 85 percent of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, up from 82 percent in 2016. Cloud architects typically use a unified platform to deliver and consistently manage application services and associated policies across different environments. This applies to existing applications, as well as new cloud-native applications – all without sacrificing visibility, security and control.
An entrepreneurial Cloud Climber can do this because they fully understand the options to develop the best cloud architecture solution to drive their business forward and by following some key disciplines:
Enforce application security anywhere
Security is the primary consideration when navigating the cloud. Identifying which applications to move and which to retain in the data centre is a fundamental decision. It is also vital to quickly identify if the cloud vendor’s native security is sufficiently effective.
FNB’s SaaS products are all developed and managed in-house, which reduces costs, simplifies security management and enables customisation. Since there is no reliance on third-party products – and because FNB’s SaaS hardware is also in-house – it was able to leverage the cloud to offer new levels of scalability and cost-efficiency, which supported its customer retention strategy.
Prioritise app migration
Prioritising and classifying commercial apps is central to an effective cloud migration strategy. Apps should be analysed and classified. Apps approaching expiration would most likely remain in-house until obsolete. Some apps need to be re-architected into a cloud-native form. Others must be moved through a hybrid “lift-and-shift” method to replicate the app in the cloud with minimal adjustments. Determining the right cloud environment with the right support services optimises app performance, increases protection and improves traffic management.
For FNB, the fact that it does not use third-party products has given it greater control over the apps, ensuring that the offerings synchronise with its overall goals and strategic vision.
Gain visibility and intelligence
At the infrastructure level, the cloud can be more secure than private data centres. However, it is essential to determine whether in-house IT can manage the complex security services or if off-the-shelf services by a cloud vendor is a better option. Achieving greater visibility and deeper intelligence into the traffic on your network and in the cloud requires effective analytical tools. In addition, a powerful, flexible and multi-environment WAF can deliver comprehensive app protection and provide access to the latest attack data, helping to ensure compliance.
Mitigate risk by using solutions providing dynamic, centralised and adaptive access control and cloud federation for all applications, wherever they reside. This enables customisable security policies that follow the apps, securing authentication for users anywhere, on any device. Protecting data with an easy-to-deploy next-generation DDoS solution guards against the most aggressive and targeted attacks.
FNB considered a non-cloud approach but realised that security would have been a challenge and costs would have been higher. Not only was it a natural decision to go for the cloud but it also allows users to gain secure access to the solutions from anywhere, at any time.
Build better teams
Successful Cloud Climbers unify departments with an integrated cloud strategy wherein architects, DevOps and NetOps work towards a common goal. A cloud architect, for example, may utilise tools that can help to automate IT infrastructure and train staff to be more efficient. Alternatively, adopting a DevOps model to collaborate with other teams can address issues facing many other areas of the business.
By changing working processes and procedures, organisations get the best from staff and maximise technology through their cloud projects. Devising a sustainable cloud training programme for key staff will make the cloud transition easier and arm decision-makers with better knowledge.
At FNB, a team of 25 developers, analysts and trainers work together to ensure successful integration with other business and banking systems, while all working towards a common goal and strategic vision.
Understand the threat landscape
Breaches pose the biggest threat to cloud infrastructure. By monitoring cyber threats, IT departments can immediately recognise a variegated and rapidly evolving threat landscape. They also build up a better understanding of attacker behaviour. Recognising the full security threat landscape must apply to all types of clouds, allowing staff to maintain access to SaaS, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) scenarios.
Implement robust solutions
Cloud Climbers invest in the best multi-cloud solutions that provide programmable application services capable of integrating into any public, private, hybrid or colocation cloud solution stack. Optimised tools deliver services in an automated, policy-driven manner that meet security and compliance requirements without slowing development teams.
Cloud-agnostic technologies can also span, provision, manage and scale in any of the existing leading cloud providers and the hybrid cloud. The best application delivery services are independent of the environment, precluding cloud lock-in, and can increase speed to market and reduce future switching costs.
Scale new heights
To be a Cloud Climber, you need to innovate and focus on return on investment. You need to have the skills to evaluate options and make complex systems function seamlessly. The right approach successfully completes ‘dev-and-test’ projects and expands operations into the cloud without sacrificing omnipresent application performance, control or security.
An effective cloud architecture strategy increases business agility and provides flexibility to scale based on shifting hardware, software and on-demand requirements. Meanwhile, application control, access and security ensure optimal service performance, availability and security. The right approach is a comprehensive multi-cloud solution that drives innovation and adds customer value. In an era of digital transformation, now is the time to start climbing.
By Martin Walshaw, Senior Systems Engineer at F5 Networks.
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