Cloud technology has evolved over the past decade from being a helpful business tool to becoming one of the business world’s key foundations. Digital transformation strategies revolve around migrating applications, assets, and infrastructure to the cloud with the goal of enabling a more adaptable and agile operation.
While most organizations were already executing on their cloud migration strategies pre-COVID, the pandemic was a serious wake-up call for those lagging behind. Gartner predicts public cloud services global spending will grow to $332.3B this year, up from $270B in 2020. Gartner also anticipates that by 2024 almost half of all IT spending on software, system infrastructure, and process outsourcing will have pivoted from traditional solutions to the cloud.
However, a successful cloud strategy is much more than throwing large chunks of cash at it. Now is a critical time for IT and business leaders to consider how they can adapt their operations around cloud capabilities beyond just increasing their cloud adoption.
Digital transformation has not changed some of the top common requirements of organizations. Security has always been a high priority, especially for areas such as defense or heavily regulated markets such as financial services and healthcare. On the other hand, low latency remains critical for fast-paced sectors, such as stock trading floors. In other cases, organizations have seen their cloud requirements rapidly evolving, for example, needing to accommodate a greatly increased remote workforce or a growing network of IoT devices.
Whatever specific requirements a business might face, there are several factors that remain constant for the cloud agendas for all organizations.
Accessibility needs balanced with security
The balancing act between accessibility and security is probably the biggest challenge with the cloud we saw play out over the past year. This is because the COVID-19 pandemic caused most organizations to rapidly attempt to support a remote workforce. Their structure rapidly pivoted from supporting largely central locations with many users to supporting hundreds or thousands of individual locations with an employee count of one.
These locations all need the same level of accessibility for key assets, such as mission-critical systems and applications, or sensitive data, and the same connection quality and user experience. In order to remain as productive as those returning to the office, and back when they themselves were office workers, remote employees need to have fast and reliable access to cloud-based assets. Particularly, workers with external-facing roles cannot afford bad connections that may risk ruining customer interactions.
In turn, organizations are more aware these days than ever before that remote connections are clearly more vulnerable to cyber risk. Remote connectivity solutions provide cyber thieves with more opportunities for attack, and remote workers are more susceptible to social engineering. Rapidly growing cloud infrastructure can also create blind spots and security gaps, and this is the case for hybrid environments as well. As businesses advance in their digital transformation execution and migrate more operations to the cloud, it becomes even more critical that they evolve their security strategies to keep up with these new environments and security requirements. As we have seen, cloud breaches can result in significant consequences, as attackers rapidly move across the network and co-opt networking and sharing functions to spread their attacks to other users.
Ensuring cloud cost savings
Cloud-based service models can provide significant financial advantages for businesses, allowing them to quickly access new functionalities without requiring heavy upfront investments. Cloud services rotate some capital expenditure costs into operational costs, with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) enabling organizations to move fundamental storage and networking functions to the cloud and away from on-premises hardware.
While cloud migration has good potential for providing cost savings, organizations must ensure that their cloud investments are in the right areas to realize strong, measurable ROI. The increasing requirement to deliver a high level of security and accessibility across multiple locations can prove extremely costly if not approached in the right way.
In addition, organizations must ensure they adopt a flexible strategy that can be easily scaled and modified as their needs and the environment change. While it might sound like a good idea to seek the lowest cost model, it may not prove to be the most cost-effective choice in the long run as dependency increases or major scaling changes are required.
The SASE approach
Hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategies can heighten security, accessibility, and cost challenges. Both approaches are very common; one study states that 92 percent of enterprises currently have a multi-cloud strategy, while 82 percent have some form of a hybrid cloud network. These hybrid approaches often signal that a business is still in the middle of a cloud transition. Although many businesses have assets they cannot migrate to the cloud for legal or technical reasons.
Multi-cloud strategies provide an attractive approach because of the increased choice and flexibility they offer. Organizations must take care, however, that security is ubiquitously applied across the entire infrastructure, with no holes that can be discovered and exploited by threat actors. A successful multi-cloud strategy must also ensure a seamless network experience for all users, regardless of which service they are leveraging.
One of the most effective approaches to addressing these challenges is to move things closer to the edge of the network versus at a central point. Delivering security and networking functions via the cloud at the source of the connection means that all locations and remote workers can leverage similar levels of security and accessibility.
This approach is the core concept behind Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), which integrates multiple security and wide-area networking services together and delivers them through the cloud. A SASE approach can also address cost concerns, as the cloud delivery method serves multiple separate locations without the need to invest in hardware or suffer lengthy and costly implementation times at each location.
Implementing and maintaining a secure, accessible cloud that can scale at an affordable rate is essential for a successful digital transformation strategy and future-proofing the network. While there is no cookie-cutter approach for the cloud, a converged method such as SASE will enable businesses to meet their objectives around their own unique operational requirements.
Michael Wood is CMO at Versa Networks.