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Learning to Live with Cloud Apps - Part 1: The Dark Side of Cloud

Published: 12 October 2016

As businesses transform themselves digitally, customer experiences increasingly depend on the quality, availability and performance of the applications that support those customer interactions....

Today, apps are hosted everywhere – in the public cloud, in private clouds and in enterprise data centres. Tomorrow, software defined everything will be running policies to make these decisions for you. Keeping a grip on which apps are holding business-critical data is challenging, as is data governance and ensuring those apps deliver consistent business benefits.

Seven in ten workers in the UK are using cloud technologies that are not managed or supervised by their company, while nearly 25% of organisations have no idea which “unofficial” apps are running on their IT infrastructure. Why is this so? Are there actual compelling, rational reasons for using unsanctioned applications to run a business?

The answer of course is yes - but there’s no excuse for low visibility within your operations. Applications in the public cloud provide immediate business benefits and rapid return on investment. Compared to hosted-on-premises, bespoke, monolithic business applications, software as a service is often more responsive (due to the scale of their hosting) and of better quality (thanks to the larger user base submitting defect reports and defining the user experience). It’s hard, slow and expensive for enterprises and IT departments to compete with the quality and agility of best-of-breed public cloud applications.

Signing up to use a cloud app in an enterprise context is fast, easy and fuss free, with many users adhering to the idea that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to obtain permission. Compared to waiting for the enterprise IT department to provide similar functionality, there really is no contest. Adopting a cloud app to do a business critical job is often a no-brainer. It’s often the competitive advantage that an enterprise needs.

There is a price to pay for this immediate improvement in business competitiveness. It’s often called “Shadow IT”, which describes the situation where the enterprise IT department is unaware of the applications being used to run the business. That means they can’t effectively manage, support or protect the IT infrastructure in the way they could, before cloud apps were available. IT departments cannot support apps they don’t even know are running in their enterprise and underpinning their business. Another dark side is “Cloud sprawl”, where the sheer number of interdependencies, with a large variety of cloud app providers, introduces new and significant risks to business continuity.

A third significant downside to cloud apps is that it makes it difficult to know where sensitive data is held, leading to issues around compliance, data protection, privacy and security.

The reality is that the trend toward using software as a service is more or less irreversible. The benefits are just too great. Instead, enterprises need to shape their policies on which apps are sanctioned and unsanctioned, on an informed basis, where risks can be sensibly assessed and weighed against business benefits. To do that, they need information and a willingness to learn to live with the new reality, taking the manifold benefits, while containing the risks.

Service providers are often faced with the challenge of taking over the management of an existing, brown field IT estate from an incumbent. To deliver a quality service, they need to understand what the enterprise is asking their infrastructure to support. Both the service provider and their business customer need to know what the bandwidth provided is being used for, so that both can arrive at sensible capacity planning decisions.

Inheriting this new estate, stabilising it, providing the service levels contractually agreed to and managing ongoing change is often complex, costly and problematic. Unless you can get early visibility and control of what the service provider is now responsible for. In all cases, it involves knowing which applications are running, and where is a vital piece of information. It needs to be timely and accurate. It also needs to be presented simply, so that trends are visible at a glance to take the noise away from the customer’s issues, and come up with a quick solution proactively rather than reactively.

Learning to Live with Cloud Apps - Part 2: The Business Impacts