Five questions to ask when planning a cloud architecture

When mapping out your cloud computing architecture, ask these five critical questions before beginning your project.

The cloud computing model and its relationship to virtual desktops is relatively vague. This is partly because both computing concepts are new, and partly because they are both very flexible.

The lack of precision when planning for a cloud computing and/or virtual desktop environment makes it difficult to decide where to start and in which what direction to move. An organized objectives-based approach will offer the best results. If the goal is to plan for cloud computing, approach these five questions with a cloud-focused attitude.

What are the initial reasons for considering cloud computing?
Are you considering cloud computing because of its dynamic capacity, its ability to reduce desktop support or the fact that it can support clients globally requiring you to deploy your own computing assets in all locations? You may be tempted to answer yes to all of these scenarios. But projects with broad and vague value propositions are more likely to fail. In nearly every IT project there is some compelling value proposition; it's critical to identify it from the beginning as it will set the direction for your cloud architecture. Consider the following:

  • Flexibility is the goal. The most important consideration will selecting a cloud computing approach that offers the most generalized application support. This approach should also support new applications "out of the box," rather than through specialized development.

  • Reducing desktop support or licensing costs is critical. A cloud-based approach that focuses on applications being licensed and supported is the best one. For most companies, general desktop productivity tools are the most costly in terms of licensing fees. Most enterprises find that the generality of applications like spreadsheets, word processors, etc., are also the most difficult to support. In this situation, using network-hosted tools like Google Apps may be the best strategy.

  • Broad geographic access to applications is the goal. It will be important to determine if a certain cloud implementation is truly broadly distributed, or whether it is simply a single data center linked to a global network (i.e., the Internet). In the latter case, there may be performance issues when accessing applications from areas that aren't well-connected to that data center.

What commitments have been made to virtual desktops, unified communications, enterprise architectures or other communication/application frameworks?
Cloud computing is easiest to adopt when there is a considerably flexible approach to phasing it in and relating it to other applications as well as the workers themselves. If time and money have been expended on any major transition in applications or worker communications, that prior commitment may limit what can be done with cloud computing -- particularly in the near term.

Considering pre-existing application commitments is important when these commitments relate to applications and communications tools from players like Microsoft or IBM. Such companies have their own strategies for cloud computing, new-generation enterprise computing architectures and unified communications. Because these vendors have their own plans, they may evolve offerings in a way that collides with your own cloud computing strategy. Make sure you understand your primary vendors' approaches to cloud computing if you have a large application investment to consider.

Will my network handle my cloud computing strategy? 
Any form of desktop virtualization or server virtualization can create network effects that may be overlooked. Flexibility in distributing resources or in offering application features to a wider range of workers can change network traffic patterns by changing client/server connectivity. Security practices at the network level also must change, particularly because using third-party cloud computing resources will require you to open desktops to access those applications.

What is the best approach to data security? 
Corporate information is not only a competitive asset, but it often contains information on customers, consumers and employees that, in the wrong hands, could create a civil liability and possibly criminal charges. Cloud computing -- like any other type of computing -- can be made secure. But securing cloud computing data is a contractual issue as well as a technical one.

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Exercise due diligence when validating the data security provisions of cloud computing providers. You should also perform regular security checks and ensure that any cloud user's liability is tightly controlled. Most contracts for cloud services will limit liability from data losses or breaches, except under certain conditions. This can leave users exposed to risks. Every concept in technology can be misused; sadly preventing misuse is often more important to planners than realizing the benefits of the new concept.

Do we need a policy to control the use of cloud computing in our environment? 
Cloud computing is going to happen to your organization one way or another. Someone in your company is probably using popular applications like Google Apps -- whether they're approved or not. Other users may have contracts to use more formalized cloud computing tools such as Amazon's EC2, but with only minimal formal review or support from IT professionals. Even if you're not actively planning cloud computing as your company's IT direction, having a policy to control even its casual use is very smart.

font color="3333FF" size="2">Tom Nolle
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is a member of the IEEE, ACM, Telemanagement Forum, and the IPsphere Forum, and is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal in advanced telecommunications strategy issues.


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