The cloud: An extension of your network
When it comes to security, agencies need to treat the cloud like any other network
There’s a problem facing more and more network administrators every year, and it’s something that’s being mandated in the federal government and heralded as a powerful, money-saving tool. It’s the cloud, and as it becomes more ubiquitous, the issues surrounding it will only become more pronounced.
And it’s something that’s sure to happen. Data bears this out. For instance, in the government sector, the deadline for identifying at least three services to migrate to cloud solutions passed in June. Meanwhile, the majority of defense and civilian agencies are ready or will soon be ready to move to the cloud, according to Deltek’s “Federal Cloud Computing Services Outlook, 2012-2017.” The problem, experts say, is that although the IT department as a whole might be ready to make the move, network administrators might need to do some work, said Andre Kindness, an analyst at Forrester Research.
“When it comes to the cloud, what I have found is that the networking team is about 18 to 24 months behind business units or those in the data center,” he said.
The reason for the disconnect
The problem is twofold. First, although the cloud has caught on as business users and those in the data center use it to get their work done more quickly, they rarely consult with the networking team to make sure their new cloud services mesh well with the existing network. Meanwhile, although it’s true that the cloud has always been part of the network, it’s only recently that network administrators have started to think about control and integration. The combination creates a new wrinkle for network administrators, especially those who are modernizing the network, according to experts.
“If you have an application hosted on a site, you might need a point-to-point [virtual private network],” said Jon Oltsik, a senior principal analyst at IT advisory firm Enterprise Strategy Group. “You need to coordinate encryption keys. You might have to bring together an authentication system. If you think about the cloud as an extension of the network, you have to treat it as such.”
When you don’t, user satisfaction suffers, turning the very thing that was supposed to increase productivity into something that impedes it, Forrester’s Kindness said. Everything on the local-area network has to go across the wide-area network, he explained, but bandwidth differs wildly. The WAN’s bandwidth is only a fraction of the LAN’s, and users, even those in IT, don’t think about that fact. “Then, when they are having a problem, they complain to the network team,” Kindness said.
That might be rooted in a generational gap. The average networking professional is in his or her 40s, while application developers are in their 20s, according to Forrester. The two groups don’t talk much, and when they do, they’re not communicating effectively, Kindness said. That will have to change in order for organizations to get the most out of the cloud, he said. Network teams, for their part, need to start working on tracking and analysis. They also need to offload some of the manual processes that take up their day, using management programs to handle some of the repetitious tasks and one-offs that don’t require real networking knowledge.
“When you automate even 5 percent of your management, you free up the human resources,” Kindness said. “Engineers probably don’t want to be typing things in and filling out spreadsheets. Instead of being bogged down on setting up infrastructure and doing config files for switches, they can become part of this proactive group using the cloud and finding solutions out there like WAN balancers and load optimizers to increase the user’s satisfaction.”