Exploring the cloud was, for a long time, one of humanity’s dreams

To the uninitiated, storing data and migrating then running applications in the cloud all seems to impose the need to use this nebulous, ‘miracle worker’ concept.

Cloud computing is a concept that enables the user or company to utilise resources and services located all over the globe, linked by a network such as the Internet, without physically having the corresponding computer infrastructure, which is hosted in the cloud provider.

There are 3 categories of Cloud:

  1. Public cloud: anybody can access the shared services from a self-service portal, via their Internet connection and payment card, without obligation.
  2. Private cloud: similar to the public cloud but differs in its use as the services and infrastructure are hosted by the company itself and intended for the company alone. In this way, security, persistence and the availability of data fall under the responsibility of this latter.
  3. Hybrid cloud: the best of both worlds? Some of the services are hosted by the cloud provider, the remainder are hosted internally. A “connection” is necessary between the 2 entities, via for example a permanent VPM connection. Few cloud providers offer this technology, despite it being very useful to compartmentalise sensitive data from other data which are not.

Taking into consideration these 3 categories, cloud computing is therefore a shared and virtual service, the cost of which varies according to actual usage. Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud platform, ensures deployment via one or all of these categories, thanks to its self-service portal or its Azure Stack offer.

But is this technology really so beneficial? Make up your own mind by going back in time…

In the 1960s, with the advent of the Internet, then in 1990, the creation of the World Wide Web, made it possible to make information accessible to the wider population. At the time, the slow connection speed (PSTN, ISDN) and the exorbitant cost of the equipment used were a major barrier to adoption by application service providers (ASP). At the beginning of the 21st century, computers became cheaper and more powerful; the high speed ADSL also came on the scene. Web hosting service providers hosting applications in-house have exploded in number, offering services such as e-mail, CRM etc. The ASP is therefore the forerunner of the SAAS model. In terms of IAAS, Amazon Web Services democratised the concept: as e-commerce leader, the majority of its turnover was generated over the festive season. The servers needed to ensure the availability of the website were substantial in number, but used for only a short period. Underexploited the rest of the year but incurring a high maintenance cost, Amazon’s idea was therefore to rent out its unused servers to companies. Profitability was rapidly achieved.

These days, we use the services of the cloud every day, often without even realising it. A simple search using your browser, an on-line game from your home console, accessing your e-mails, all of this is possible thanks to this technology. Many people do not consider their life to be full and meaningful without Facebook, Gmail or even Netflix … which are all hosted in the cloud. Companies across the globe supply or exploit applications in a variety of fields, ranging from the sale of potatoes to digital learning. The cloud services market continues to grow, with global expenditure estimated at being over $100 billion in 2017.

In the cloud, the end user can use the Internet to access resources which cannot be easily located geographically, but is this a problem? This risk is magnified by sharing servers and by outsourcing them. The company’s data are thus potentially subject to a plurality of laws; those of the country hosting the data, but also those for which the service is offered, in addition to the formalities imposed by the CNIL (independent French administrative body ensuring data privacy). If the data are transferred outside the European Union, this can become a real headache! It should be noted that in terms of regulatory conformity, it is the corporate customer who remains legally responsible, with the provider simply acting as a subcontractor. What happens in the event of a computer disaster on the cloud provider’s side? Loss of data can be offset by a replication process between remote sites (650 kms minimum with Microsoft Azure) or a contractual commitment relating to recovery time.

Why does the cloud therefore appear to have such a promising future in our society?

  1. I only pay for what I use: the number of my users represents my final invoice. During peak usage, I am only billed for the allocated resources I have actually used (CPU, RAM, drive access, etc.).
  2. Minimal maintenance: management of the underlying infrastructure (electricity, air conditioning, servers, premises, etc.) rests with the provider, with the cost of using its services including these expenses.
  3. Rapid implementation: it usually only takes a few days to migrate an application or server to the cloud.
  4. Accessible in one click: it is possible to access your hosted resources wherever you are using any terminal.
  5. Trusted cloud: the cloud provider very often meets a vast set of international and sector-related standards. In addition, audits are periodically performed by third-parties.

This is why, today, the cloud is an essential part of the digital transformation, not only as a means, but also as an injector of innovation through its numerous services.

Microsoft, a major player in Cloud Computing has, today, set up a dedicated website for its Azure service, explaining the roles and responsibility of each person within the framework of its service contract.

Appealing to companies, cloud computing remains complex to manage considering the multiplicity of providers. It is advisable to start by implementing cloud computing services for the company’s least sensitive applications, particularly in the presence of personal data which are particularly sensitive and subject to controlled use. Then, gradually, all or part of the information system can be migrated to one or more cloud providers, so as not to put all one’s eggs in one basket…

Sopra Steria supports companies in their transformation strategy to the cloud and operates different services in the cloud up to management of financial commitments.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch by email: philippe.paiola@soprasteria.com. Our team, based at Sophia-Antipolis, specialises in advising and implementing Cloud technologies for our customers.

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