Cloud: a virtual helping hand to support remote working
Wed 29 Apr 2020 | Raja Renganathan
Forward-looking businesses are offloading data centre maintenance and management to the cloud to keep things running during the COVID-19 pandemic
For years, proponents have urged businesses to better enable employees to work from home, citing benefits like increased productivity, less commute time, better work-life balance and enhanced preparedness for business continuity, should a localised disaster strike, such as a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or flood.
Overnight, the COVID-19 global pandemic made the final argument for work-from-home a reality for millions of workers – ready or not. Many global enterprises must suddenly support more and more people working remotely, whether they are equipped to deliver and support workloads at scale or not. This has sent businesses scrambling to quickly embellish digital channels and platforms, increase bandwidth, add virtual private networks (VPNs), provision more laptops, and offer thin-client applications to their employees and customers to improve operational collaboration and enforce social distancing.
A proper business continuity plan followed up with precision execution can ensure that enterprises deliver such capabilities. However, what happens to the on-premises data centre where a physical presence is required? Even with workplace virtualisation technologies like remote consoles and “out-of-band networks”, which reduce the need for on-site data centre operations staff, the fact is, physical boxes in on-premises data centres still need to be managed, guarded and secured by people.
Take the February 2019 data centre meltdown of a major U.S. bank, which crippled the organisation’s online and mobile banking capabilities. The company needed to shut down one of its data centre facilities due to a smoke condition. It took two days to bring the facility back up, and only with significant effort, which required the physical presence of data centre staff.
Imagine if this happened during the COVID-19 crisis. The time taken to fix the issue would increase exponentially due to a lack of people resources and hesitation to collaborate in-person. Even physical security could become compromised, which raises grave concerns.
Data centres: the foundation of day-to-day
The fact is, as our dependence on IT intensifies, data centres have become the substratum of how we live, work and play. From banking to insurance to 24×7 news, everything is supported by cloud infrastructure housed in virtual data centres. If these data centres go down, critical business functions, financial networks and in some cases our whole way of life become threatened. As a result, virtual data centres need to be continuously supervised and constantly cared for.
The Uptime Institute’s 2019 Data Centre Survey puts this into context, some of the findings include:
- The staffing problem affecting most of the data centre sector has become a crisis. Sixty-one percent of respondents said their organisations had difficulty retaining or recruiting staff — up from 55% a year earlier.
- Outages continue to cause significant problems for operators. Just over one-third (34%) of all respondents had an outage or severe IT service degradation in the past year, while half had an outage or severe IT service degradation in the past three years.
- Ten per cent of all respondents said that their most recent significant outage cost more than $1 million. (The study authors note that “most recent” could have been at any time in the past.)
The benefits of transferring data centre maintenance to the cloud
Forward-looking businesses are taking a different approach – they are offloading data centre maintenance and management to the cloud. One reason for this is scale, as cloud service providers (CSPs) have mastered the art of managing scale. In addition to proactively planning for capacity, businesses can leverage auto-scaling features to rapidly meet any unplanned surge in demand.
Cloud infrastructure is also highly automated and allows for the creation of scaling policies that set targets and add or remove capacity in real-time as demand changes. Thus, utilisation and costs are optimised, while the need for having more people on the ground is reduced.
Most CSPs now provide a multi-tenant architecture that allows different business units within an organisation or multiple organisations to share computing resources. This allows organisations to optimise their resources and staff vs. having their own data centres.
Lastly, the physical security in and around CSP data centres tends to be more robust and proven than what enterprises can individually afford. Most CSPs have rigorous and ongoing processes for assessment and mitigation of potential vulnerabilities, often performed by third-party auditors.
Keeping an eye on the horizon
With many proven methods and tools, cloud migration is involved, but it is not difficult. For businesses that take a meticulous optimisation approach, the cloud can be more cost-effective than CapEx-hungry data centres. Even in the context of coronavirus, digital platforms running on the cloud can unleash cost and operational advantages via centralised control while meeting bandwidth challenges that flare up during peak usage periods.
Perhaps it is our hyper-connected world, but severe disasters seem more frequent than ever. As businesses respond to the many challenges COVID-19 presents, they also need to keep their eye on the horizon to prepare their data centres to withstand any disaster that strikes in the futures.