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The state of cloud in Hong Kong: F5 Networks

o Nurdianah Md Nur
03.06.2014 kl 17:56 | MIS Asia

Despite the known benefits of the cloud, there is still some resistance to it. Charles Chong, regional solution architect of Asia Pacific & Japan at F5 Networks, shares with Computerworld Singapore the barriers to cloud adoption and provides advice on how enterprises should overcome them.


Despite the known benefits of the cloud, there is still some resistance to it. Charles Chong, regional solution architect of Asia Pacific & Japan at F5 Networks, shares with Computerworld Singapore the barriers to cloud adoption and provides advice on how enterprises should overcome them.

Q: Much has been discussed about cloud in 2013 and more vendors are including related services in their portfolio. Is it right to say that enterprises, especially in Hong Kong, are no longer worried about moving to the cloud?

Chong: Yes and no. The real answer is that enterprises in Hong Kong are less worried about moving to the cloud. However, misconceptions, fear of losing control and security concerns continue make the cloud story murky.

What is evident is that enterprises understand the initial benefits of clouds: better business agility, improved operational efficiency and increased cost savings. However, they continue to be cautious. One of the biggest concerns is security, which also remains one of the biggest misconceptions.

The truth is that security needs to be rethought for cloud. Protecting an internal infrastructure behind layers of firewalls is no longer sensible. Enterprises need to have a hard look at their current infrastructure before migrating to the cloud. Security also needs to be relooked from an application-centric perspective. For example, Web Application Firewalls can help to protect Web services in ways traditional firewalls can't. In addition, using solutions like F5 BIG-IP Application Security Manager ensures applications are protected and optimised for on-premise and cloud infrastructure. Service providers are motivated to offer the best security too as their own business and reputation is at stake. Thus, they often employ dedicated professionals and invest in specific tools that enterprises do not have to invest in.

Lastly, clouds transform a company's infrastructure to become more application-centric. That means multi-layered attacks should be considered when designing a cloud infrastructure or subscribing to a cloud service. A simple distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack can essentially bring your organisation to the knees.

Essentially, many of these fears stem from the fear of losing control. Cloud service providers can bolster security by offering global knowledge, best practices, and expertise whenever needed. By leaving administration in the hands of the experts, enterprises can refocus their IT teams on core or value-driving activities.

Many enterprises in Hong Kong and Asia are already addressing these concerns and going past popular misconceptions. This is why IDC predicts Asia Pacific, along with Western Europe and Latin America will increase their share of the IT Cloud services market, while the largest public IT cloud services market, the U.S., will see its share decline from 56.9 percent in 2013 to 43.9 percent in 2017. But it will be a while before cloud adoption numbers in Asia reach those seen in the U.S.

Q: However, there are still some enterprises that prefer to wait-and-see. What factors are hindering these organisations from moving to the cloud? How should enterprises overcome these barriers?

Chong: We see two main factors that affect enterprises' decision to embrace cloud.

1. Rethinking security

As mentioned previously, there are a lot of misconceptions about cloud that are centered on security. When moving from a server-centric infrastructure to an application-centric Cloud infrastructure, security needs to be rethought. Network-based threats, such as SYN floods (a form of denial-of-service attack), are an enterprise's real concern. In addition, many fear losing control to third-party service providers. These are issues that can be addressed by having a strict selection process of cloud service providers and proactive management through service-level agreements (SLAs). Many successful companies have gone into the cloud by looking at their service providers as their strategic partners, instead of vendors. In return, service providers are highly motivated to protect their own reputation by offering the best security available. If in doubt, it is highly advisable to move the application to the cloud first, while keeping the database at the company's own data center.

2. Integration and Management woes

Moving to the cloud requires integration and management. For a homogeneous environment, this is simple. In reality, many enterprises have heterogeneous environments that have grown organically over the years as they constantly add applications and services for employees and/or customers. So integrating and managing different environments, including legacy ones, and applications, which may be highly customised, from data centres to the cloud can be a challenge. When not deployed properly, the adoption of cloud can complicate management and create inconsistent user experiences. A thorough study of one's own infrastructure and using a phased approach to cloud migration can help to reduce integration anxiety. Using clouds as test beds for integration can also reduce impact on actual business or the production environment.

Q: How are the early adopters of cloud in Hong Kong using the cloud?

Chong: Enterprises in Hong Kong often see clouds providing benefits in two main areas: Cost reduction and improved competitiveness. Many have embraced cloud to shift their IT expenditure model from a capital expenditure-driven one to an operating expenditure-based one. By subscribing to resources on demand, enterprises can easily scale up or out according to business needs without having to invest time and money in deploying these in-house. As a result, organisations are becoming more agile and flexible to market demands, improving overall competitiveness as well as operational readiness.

Provision of new application is now easier, as clouds become the preferred platform for delivery. This allows businesses to quickly meet new demands or explore new opportunities, without having to purchase and deploy new hardware, and worry about utilisation rate.

Software-as-a-Service, through the Cloud, is also changing the way enterprises work. Mission critical processes, like finance and HR, can now be done easily through subscription-based services. These allow enterprises to let their IT departments focus on value-adding or core activities, and not be bogged down by administration concerns and enabling IT for other departments/divisions. In addition, enterprises do not have to employ additional specialists for IT management, which is a huge concern for many in Hong Kong. Besides, they also benefit from best practices and global expertise from service providers.

Overall, the cost of doing business using IT has reduced considerably. Storing data and email can now be provisioned as a service, as well as other mission critical processes right up to disaster recovery. This has flattened the playing field, allowing medium enterprises and smaller peers to challenge established incumbents. In addition, it has allowed other enterprise functions, such as the COO and CMO, to change the way they work with the CIO to meet business goals.

Q: How should enterprises in Hong Kong use cloud for innovation?

Chong: Innovation has become a strategic consideration for many. In the past, operational effectiveness has been the main focus for large businesses. However with IT flattening the playing field, innovation has become the key focus. Clouds can be great engines of innovation.

Clouds automate deployment

In a constantly evolving organisation, deployment can be a serious drain on resources. A cloud solution that uses of pre-packaged integration, standards-based application programming interfaces and unique application delivery templates can alleviate this headache. The result: higher efficiency and lower risks because CIOs no longer have to orchestrate these complex operational processes. Vendors like F5 Networks have taken a step beyond by integrating network management capabilities to server virtualization. This reduces deployment complexity and increases efficiency and productivity.

Clouds remove administration burden

With clouds onboard, CIOs can look to further reduce their operational burden by outsourcing part of their infrastructure. Some organisations have even outsourced their entire infrastructure, alleviating worries about talent shortage or managing the infrastructure. All CIOs have to do is manage these outsourcing relationships, so that they are constantly aligned with your business goals. This unshackles their IT teams from administration tasks, allowing them to focus on enabling innovation.

Clouds enables collaboration

Innovation is often a result of collaboration. According to the Forbes Insight survey, a majority of cloud proponents have experienced great opportunities for innovation due to better collaboration. By enabling collaboration across various devices and locations, clouds improve innovation by several folds.

Clouds blurs the line between CIO and other CXOs

By democratising IT, clouds have allowed the IT burden to be shared among different departments. CIOs are no longer the only IT experts, with CMOs and COOs now able to subscribe to new Cloud services. This has changed the way CXOs work with CIOs, and has enabled IT innovation to occur across the organisation. It has also allowed CIOs to become forward-thinking IT strategists who focus on core processes and competitive differentiators that align with long-term business goals.

Q: Some CIOs are lamenting that clouds do not really provide flexibility -- they are locked in to a cloud provider since they have built apps around for it and trained their staff on how to use the system. What are your thoughts on this?

Chong: Cloud can provide a certain amount of flexibility and there are ways to use multiple clouds together. Lock-in has been a concern for CIOs for many decades. They are often cautious of becoming beholden to one or two vendors' solutions, with very little room to migrate to a competitive one. In Hong Kong, many enterprises already have several assessment models to ensure that vendor lock-ins do not hamper their IT strategy or vision.

Cloud lock-in is much less definable. Cloud technologies are now open, making it easier for customers to move their infrastructure, data and apps elsewhere. Better virtualisation has also eliminated the problem where operating systems and open source software are concerned. For example, the hypervisor that makes virtualisation possible is now available in proprietary and open source versions. That makes virtual servers more portable. Tools also exist to migrate data back and forth among the big server Cloud players, especially VMWare, OpenStack and Amazon.

Cloud vendors are also working on open standards for APIs and platform. These will offer the freedom for customers to move between service providers, according to the business demands.

The majority of vendor lock-in occurs inside enterprises where customised applications exist. Add these to the cloud, and the infrastructure becomes very proprietary. This is unavoidable unless these applications are replaced or reengineered to be more open.

Customers also need to be aware what vendors are selling. In fact, many vendors sell proprietary solutions made with almost exclusively open source components. This is not just a cloud issue but has been a concern for some time.

Lastly, customers should look for a software vendor that knows how to support the different cloud providers with its API. They should also employ vendors who can provide an abstraction layer between your code and the cloud provider.

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