Combination of private, public cloud could allay security concerns

April 29, 2010

Today we continue our conversation with Andrew Greenway, the Global Program Lead for Cloud Computing at Accenture, about their recent white paper regarding the six questions you should be asking if you’re looking at the cloud.

Greenway begins by talking about one of the biggest concerns — and potential pitfalls: security.

AG: I think probably if you talk to anyone in government, or in any organization, to be honest, about cloud, one of the first concerns or risks that comes up is around data security and data privacy. There’s a feeling that — the data’s out there, I’m not quite sure where it is — and that makes people feel uncomfortable, naturally.

Our view is, the way that that’s going to be addressed within government in particular is that, for the foreseeable future, they will use a combination of a private cloud . . . [one] created just for the government and existing within their firewall within the country, and then they’ll also have access to the public cloud. I think they’ll be very careful in thinking through which applications and which data they’re comfortable running inside the private cloud, and which they feel they really can put out into the public cloud.

I think managing that interface and how those two types of clouds work together will be key into delivering the benefits that I think are there, while maintaining confidence around data security and data privacy.

A lot of the technology really is not new. It’s there. It’s been around for awhile. I think it’s just a case of pulling that together now and organizing it in a way that meets all of those requirements.

FCB: What are some first steps [to take] if one is interested in trying to move . . . to the cloud?

AG: The first thing that I think the organization or government needs to do is to think about what it wants to achieve — if there are any new processes or new applications of computing which they would like to do and which, in the past they haven’t been able to afford. [Those] are probably very good candidates to think about cloud straight away as a potential way to do that in a cost-effective fashion.

I would encourage organizations to think about that and start piloting things. We know, for example, that the U.S. Government has launched Apps.gov, which is starting to do exactly that. They have a number of applications now up on that site which government departments can now tap into. . . . The idea is that, over time, more and more applications will be added. I see that growing and continuing to develop.

I think each government department needs to look at its requirements, the systems it has and the applications it needs, figure out which ones are suitable for the cloud, whether there’s a good cost benefit for moving or building something new in the cloud, and then taking a step by step approach to doing that.

I think in order to be successful, they really need to think through how they’re going to organize, whether it makes sense to have the cloud program done at the federal level, or at the local government level, or a combination of the two. I think it’s important that those decisions are made early on — and that once you’ve made those decisions, you make sure that everyone keeps to the rules. . . .

You could start to get more customer-centric processes building up where, for example, when [someone] has to change his address, he would just change it in one place, and then that would automatically be replicated across all government departments. Cloud computing, over time, I think is going to start making those sorts of processes much more feasible than they have been in the past.

I think also there are going to be some opportunities to use cloud computing for very data-intensive processes. A good example that we’re seeing in a number of industries is around analyzing data. You’ve got banks and banks of data [and] it’s not cost-effective today to go through and analyze and look for disparity in the data or whatever. But cloud computing makes that cost-effective.

So, for governments, looking for cases of fraud or claiming benefits more than once or those sorts of things, it could be a very cost-effective, powerful tool that may well prove applicable for things like that.

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6 questions you should ask about cloud computing

April 27, 2010

Yes? No? Maybe?

There are a lot of questions to ask when looking at cloud computing, and whether or not it might be a good solution for your agency.

Accenture recently released a white paper, Six Questions Government Executives Should Ask About Cloud Computing

Fed Cloud Blog today talks with Andrew Greenway, the Global Program Lead for Cloud Computing at Accenture.

AG: We’re increasingly coming to the view in Accenture that cloud is going to have a profound impact across most enterprises, but the way it will impact from one industry to another. We think, for example, it’s going to have a very different impact on a company in the media and entertainment industry, as compared to a company in the retail industry or government.

So, we think it’s going to be more appropriate to think about cloud and the impact it’s going to have on different organizations based on their industry, and that’s why we started producing points of view based around the impact within specific industries.

FCB: The first question you have here is kind of the most obvious, but maybe not really. In doing interviews with different government officials here and different people in the private sector here in the United States, we get the feeling that some people are jumping on the cloud computing bandwagon without really knowing what it is. Talk a bit about question 1 — which is basically, “What is cloud computing and how does it work?” Why is it important to ask that question?

AG: I think many people have a different view of what cloud computing is. Our view is pretty simple — that cloud computing is the provision of computing services over the Internet, from supersized data centers that are starting to grow around the world, and those services range from complex business functions to the simple provision of computing power and storage.

The reason it’s important is that, for the first time, I think we’re seeing the real opportunity for organizations to just buy the computing power that they need — pay by the drink, if you like. There are a number of organizations that are investing literally billions of dollars in building up these mega data centers, so we now really do have almost limitless computer capacity that we can call on, and you can pay for what you need.

That is providing a new opportunity for many organizations to think about how they do their computing and, hence, a lot of opportunities are starting to open up.

FCB: This flows into the second questions that governments should ask, which is about the benefits. Talk a little bit about the major benefits that cloud computing offers.

AG: The major things that we see cloud computing offering are, most importantly in the coming climate, around cost. If you look at any particular organization and the computing capacity that they’ve bought in the past, most organizations are using probably less than 20 percent of that capacity. So, for most of the time, those computers are sitting idle. Cloud computing really allows you to just buy what you need. So, you can see how, very quickly, you can start to get the computing capacity that you need in a much more cost-effective way. It really does provide the opportunity, when implemented in the right way, to provide some very, very effective computing power which wasn’t possible in the past. I think cost is clearly going to be one of the benefits that many organizations are going to look for.

The second one is around flexibility. You really can get what you need and the services that we’re starting to see pop up around cloud computing allow you to take the computing power or the service or the application and just pay for what you use, and when you’re finished, you stop paying. That’s very attractive to many organizations because they don’t have to worry about the big, upfront costs in implementing the software or the data center or whatever it is up front. They just take what they need, pay for it, and then they move on.

The third major benefit that we see is around speed. A lot of the things that you need — the services that you need — are going to be pre-built for you in the cloud. As an organization, you don’t really need to have all the expertise, all the skills that you have in the past. You’re just able to tap in and dial up what service you want, and very quickly you can have that up and running and supporting your operation.

FCB: One of the questions you have in this document, too, regards — “how can I depend on clouds to save money?”

AG: You need to go about it the right way. So, in order to save the money, you have to make sure that you are using the benefits that cloud can bring, buying what you need, and then, when you’re finished using it, you turn it off. So the way that you implement the cloud computing and the way that you sign up to services needs to be structured in a way that you can get that benefit.

We think that’s going to provide some particular challenges to government, which is one of the things that came out in our paper. That is, governments have certain restrictions on them which are very different than those in other organizations. Generally, governments will want to keep their data within the country, and they’ll want to have confidence that the data is not going outside the borders of the country. They’ll have some very specific requirements around security and data privacy, and that places some restrictions on how they can use cloud. We think they’re going to have to be very careful in how they structure the use of cloud to get the benefits without, as I said, having the data lying in the wrong place or without risking data through concerns around data privacy or security.


The inevitability of cloud in a mixed environment

December 23, 2009

Hear the second part of our interview with David Chen.


Today we continue our chat with David Chen, lead of the technology consulting practice for Accenture Health and Public Service.

Security in the cloud: Risks and benefits

Security is definitely a very valid concern.

If you look at how companies are able to offer some of the economies of the cloud is because they have shared infrastructure and they’re able to leverage unused compute power in one are to another application and move that around.

By the nature of things being shared, that poses a security concern, especially in the federal government, where there’s sensitive and classified information — and there’s also the need for certifications and accreditations of certain environments.

So, the first message there is to be conscious of that. I think IT managers need to choose very carefully what applications are appropriate to host on the cloud, given the current state.

Then, the third thing you’ll see is a lot of the cloud providers are working toward a hybrid model, where they will have computing infrastructure dedicated toward one agency or one organization and have a cloud within that.

Now, you won’t get quite the same economies when you do that.

We also see a lot of agencies starting to implement private clouds, where they use a lot of the same technologies internally and get some of the same advantages to address some of those security concerns.

I would say, though, also, on the flip side, the cloud can actually give you some benefits with security.

One is that you keep some of your applications that might be more public facing away from from your highly sensitized internal applications.

So, somebody breaks into your public facing Web page, for example, then, if it’s on the cloud, the intruder cannot get to other systems that would otherwise be on the same network.

We’ve seen that happen to some of the agencies — where [hackers] got into one system and then, all of a sudden, could get into other systems that were much more sensitive, because they were on the same network.

By moving things out to the cloud, you can avoid that problem and also the cloud can help you with things like denial of service attacks because of the ability to shut off and turn on new servers and other compute infrastructure quickly.

Accenture and the cloud

We help agencies and companies operate in the cloud and with the cloud.

We help them with their cloud strategy; we help them with the management of their infrastructure, including both cloud and non-cloud environments; and then we also will partner with cloud companies and really leverage their capitol investments in the infrastructure.

So, as an example, we announced a partnership with Microsoft on their Azure cloud offering, with the idea that we would be a primary systems integrator helping our clients use that offering and figure out how to implement it and help them with that integration.

What is the Accenture Cloud Computing Accelerator?

The name may be a little misleading — it’s not something to make the cloud go faster, but . . . It helps an agency or a company formulate their cloud computing strategy.

We help them, in a very short time period — usually four weeks or less — look to see which business applications could be migrated to the cloud, how cloud fits in with their overall strategy and then how to both transition into that . . . as well as long-term — how their environment might look or should look when they start integrating both their cloud and traditional computing environment.

Wrapping it up

I think what I would say in terms of [the topics about] — everyone’s struggling with how quickly to move into the cloud — and is it real — and is it secure enough?

What we’ve seen time and time again is that, when we look at internal compute enterprise environments butting heads with the Internet, the Internet always wins.

So, we see cloud as something that is inevitable long-term. What I would say is that most IT managers should start looking at the cloud [and] figuring out how it plays in and understand that it’s still early on and the technology is maturing and it’s not going to be a fit for everything — but start to look and see what is a good fit.

There are some incredible economies that should be — and can be — taken advantage of now. Then, also, as I have mentioned several times, really making sure that there is a holistic strategy.

It’s not just about cloud computing.

It’s not just about traditional, but we see, in the next several years, that everyone is going to have a mixed environment.

Cloud still has to be managed just like other systems out there need to be managed in terms of system monitoring and everything else.

So, it’s going to be very important for agencies to look at migrate and evolve their management structure to both be able to handle cloud and non-cloud in a mixed environment.

Fed Cloud Blog will return next week with more posts. Have a great holiday in the meantime!


Cloud computing and SOA – evolution of implementation is similar

December 21, 2009

Hear the first part of our interview with David Chen.


You might not equate the two right off the bat — cloud computing and service oriented architecture (SOA) — but they’re similar in terms of how their implementation evolved.

That’s according to David Chen, lead of the technology consulting practice for Accenture Health and Public Service, who is our guest this week to talk about the cloud.

Defining the cloud

It’s one of those things, I think, where if you have five different people, you get five different answers.

We at Accenture define cloud as a type of computing that allows companies and agencies and businesses to access technology-based services via the Internet.

But, there are a lot of exceptions to that.

There are also private clouds.

You can always find some instance of cloud that doesn’t exactly meet the [standard] definition; so, we like to look at some of the characteristics of cloud computing, and really those are — very rapid acquisition of services, very low to no capital investments, low operating costs and, usually, variable pricing tied directly to consumption — pay by the drink-types of models.

We also see cloud services as being program or automatically controlled and being able to be accessed in an on-demand fashion [while] giving you the illusion of infinite capacity.

I would add there’s different types of cloud and we really have four that we highlight: process-as-a-service (getting a business process through a cloud service); application-as-a-service (such as SalesForce.com); platform-as-a-service (using cloud for the development of an environment); and infrastructure-as-a-service (where you are buying compute power or storage).

Working with SalesForce

We are a partner with SalesForce.com and have been for many years. We will help clients who integrate SalesForce.com applications. We have not created our own applications per se. We do have some cloud-like business models and offerings . . . [such as] process-as-a-service, where we do the post-processing for tickets for many of the major airlines.

Cloud and SOA = similar?

Cloud basic fundamentals have been around for quite awhile, especially on the software level. SalesForce.com has been around since 1999 — [that’s] over ten years in terms of an offering; however, there has been a recent convergence of technologies and maturation of technologies on the data center side.

So, if you look at the ability to virtualize and share within a data center, the ability to automatically provision and then you look at the increased bandwidth and robustness of the Internet, that has allowed you to come up with some incredibly powerful price points and time to market.

So, instead of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for compute power, you are now able to buy small units very cheaply and not have the up front time to create that while handling big spikes in volume.

Some of the new technologies have really added to the power of cloud, as well as some of the offerings now that Amazon and Google and other public providers have.

That has really enabled this new value proposition that is very hard to ignore.

I definitely agree that we’ve seen that spike in the last year or two. It is getting a lot of hype and it’s one of those things, also, like SOA before it — or Web technologies — where every vendor is trying to call what they have ‘cloud’, because of the hype that it’s getting.

But, the underlying business case that you can get now is, I would say, very different that you could get five or 10 years ago due to some of these newer technologies.

Wednesday: Is moving into the cloud inevitable?