The cloud offers undisputed advantages over a local data centre. But not all clouds are the same: they cover a wide range, from in-house operation in a public cloud to managed cloud services. Here’s an overview of the different models.
We open the door to the basement or data centre of a Swiss company. The fans of the servers, storage systems and switches hum in the racks. Invisible to visitors and running behind the enclosures are the corporate applications, which the company uses to manage customer files, process orders and send invoices. If you could look into the data streams, you would even discover one or two print jobs running via the data centre’s print server.
It all works, but it’s unsatisfactory. The CFO is plagued by high costs and the CIO by staff shortages. And the entire management board agree that the infrastructure as a whole hinders innovation rather than inspires it. A decision has therefore been made: the ‘basement’ will be moved to the cloud.
The cloud as a driver of innovation
The advantages of the cloud for operational business are well known: efficient use of hardware resources, flexible scaling and short time to market with new features in customer applications. When it comes to services from cloud providers, there is also no need to spend resources on infrastructure operation, and access to applications is more flexible.
But cloud providers offer even more: not only outsourcing operations, but also improving (i.e. digitalising) processes and providing access to new, efficient opportunities for applications that can culminate in the implementation of new business models. To use a buzzword, in a sense, the cloud is ‘Outsourcing 4.0’.
In other words, the CFO is satisfied because they gain better cost control. And the CIO can deploy the company’s scarce IT professionals in areas that help it grow. The company decides to ‘clear out its basement’ by using cloud providers. There is only one question left to answer, but it’s a decisive one: what kind of cloud will it be?
Public cloud, virtual private cloud, managed cloud: which one is right for you?
But not all clouds are the same, and companies’ needs and general conditions vary. A common approach is to use different cloud services for different needs – welcome to the world of multi-cloud. A brief overview may be of some help.
For standard applications: public cloud
Unless strict security requirements prohibit its use, Microsoft 365 – and thus SaaS from the public cloud – is standard. In-house applications often run in the public cloud services provided by hyperscalers, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
These services enable low-threshold, low-cost access to the cloud and are easy to scale. However, this relative simplicity comes at a cost: customers do not have full control over the infrastructure and are responsible for protecting their data themselves. Customers not only share infrastructure resources with others, but also responsibility: in this shared responsibility model, the cloud provider is responsible solely for the operation and availability of the infrastructure.
Compromise with more security: virtual private cloud
If a public cloud does not meet the requirements for data security and control, virtual private clouds offers a middle ground between public and private within your own data centre. With products such as Amazon VPC and Azure Virtual Network, customers control the network and thus the connection to their virtual environments themselves. As a result, they are isolated from the rest of the public cloud, which allows better control of access and thus increases data security.
However, virtual private clouds do not offer full control over the infrastructure. Customers rely on cloud provider solutions for management and cybersecurity. Here, too, the shared responsibility model applies. The challenge remains to operate identity and access management uniformly across different technologies.
Outsourcing operations and processes: managed cloud
The cloud approaches above offer infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). The customer is responsible for operating the applications within the virtual environments. Managed cloud services such as Swisscom’s Enterprise Service Cloud (ESC) go one step further. Such services offer customers the opportunity to outsource the entire operation of the applications, including the associated business processes, to the service provider. Depending on the provider, the services range from operating a public cloud infrastructure with a hyperscaler to offering a complete cloud infrastructure, connectivity and operation of applications from a single source, as with Swisscom ESC.
Swisscom Enterprise Service Cloud (ESC)
With the Enterprise Service Cloud, Swisscom offers companies a secure private cloud from Swiss data centres with management and support from Switzerland. The service can be extensively adapted to meet customer needs and includes services ranging from outtasking to the complete outsourcing of business applications and processes.
Urs Lehner, Head of Business Customers at Swisscom, says: ‘The Enterprise Service Cloud is strategically important to us and is being developed on an ongoing basis. This is also reflected in the fact that we use it for our own services as part of our multi-cloud strategy.’
This service allows companies to set up, to a certain extent, external private clouds that meet the highest standards of data security, including data processing and storage, operation and support in Switzerland.
Supplement: The company opted for a typical – and not just Swiss – compromise: non-critical areas of the infrastructure, such as print servers, are moving into the public cloud, while the operation of the central corporate applications has been entrusted to a managed cloud provider. The question remains: what will happen to the empty data centre?