The Expert View: How to gain agility and connectivity in a cloud-based world

The Expert View: How to gain agility and connectivity in a cloud-based world

Interconnection was once something that only IT and telecoms companies worried about. Later it became an issue in financial services, as significant money could be made from being even a little faster than the competition. Now, as James Maudslay of Equinix, told a recent Business Reporter breakfast briefing, interconnection is an issue for every business.

Speaking to an audience of senior executives from a range of industries at the Goring Hotel in London, Mr Maudslay said that, regardless of industry sector, the common theme is data. Firms need to move more of it, more quickly, and consumers and employers are still demanding improvements. As businesses leverage the cloud to deliver this, how can they improve their agility and connectivity?

The governance challenge

One attendee, from a private healthcare provider, said her company requires the UK business to use the same cloud applications as the US parent. However, cloud companies don’t always provide the same services in every region. Sometimes this is because the service is not ready to rollout widely or because of local regulations. Businesses need to be aware that international rollout of cloud applications may not be possible and plan accordingly.

Even when services are available, it might not be possible to offer every application because of local regulations. In some countries this is particularly difficult, said an attendee from the medical sector, because regulations can change quickly – and without warning.

Some attendees said many projects in their business are referred to compliance as a first step, or at least early on, so that possible hold-ups can be identified. An attendee from an international bank said that project times can often double once compliance issues are incorporated. No company wants projects to take longer, but the sooner you are able to get an accurate timeline in place, the better.

Controlling costs

The move to the cloud feels complicated for many businesses, but for one attendee at least, it’s simple. She argued that as long as you understand your business model and have all the information, then you should be able to make a straightforward decision. It is when some of the information is hidden, whether that is about expected value or potential costs, that decisions become more complex.

Before attempting any kind of cloud provision, it must provide demonstrable value to the business or it isn’t worth doing, said an attendee from the health sector. A well-planned service will be clear from the outset about the value it provides, which should make it easier to decide what cost is acceptable.

Cloud services can be expensive, attendees agreed, which is something that the business often doesn’t realise. A cloud service can easily end up consuming more bandwidth or storing more data because the business uses it more than expected and fails to realise that this comes at a cost. In cases like these, said an attendee from the insurance industry, the service becomes a victim of its own success.

Attendees suggested maintaining flexibility for this kind of expansion by building some slack into the service when making the initial forecast. An alternative option is to charge the business for the bandwidth they use, giving them a powerful incentive to use only what they need.

One common driver of interconnection is data analytics. The ability to connect data sets from across the company or from clients and partners can unlock new insights, increase productivity and spur innovation. Those at the briefing stressed the need to avoid storing data unnecessarily, however. It’s easy to accumulate data on the assumption that it will be useful to some future analytics project but storage brings costs, especially if you want to be able to access the data at short notice.

Scaling peaks with agility

Even if the business is using data within the expected range, it is still possible for there to be unforeseen peaks. An example of this is the Black Friday sale that puts enormous pressure on online retailers every November, concentrating vast amounts of traffic into just 24 hours. Cloud services allow flexibility in these situations by making it possible to rapidly scale-up service provision.  Those companies that have optimized connectivity, by moving from a silo’d to distributed architecture close to the edge have been able to accelerate their digital transformation allowing them the flexibility they need for coping with the spikes in business.

Where peaks are predictable, they can be planned-for. The business just has to know about them. An attendee gave the example of an exam revision publication that his company provides: they have to be sure not to schedule any maintenance on that product immediately before an exam or else customers will be furious.

Another area of planning to be able to cope with peaks is security. One attendee said that peak traffic to his company’s website used to trigger the security software for detecting DDOS attacks, which resulted in legitimate traffic being turned away. Part of dealing with that meant asking the marketing team to let the IT department know when any significant activity was planned.

For all of the above, said one attendee, it is vital that architects and IT specialists are involved in the service design process as early as possible. Good planning can prevent lots of problems later on and help to maximise agility from the outset.

In concluding, Mr Maudslay said that global interconnection can be a game-changer but companies have to be well prepared to make the most of the opportunity.

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