App Stores, Hybrid Cloud Computing, and Big Data: 3 Trends to Watch in the Coming Year

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If last year was all about mobile devices, app stores, and millions of applications, the coming year is going to be about how organizations should leverage this potential new platform through BYOD and app stores. If last year was abuzz with cloud computing, the coming year will focus more toward how it will help organizations create a hybrid IT infrastructure. If last year was all about dealing with data, next year will see more inroads being made into how Big Data should be used strategically by organizations. We bring you advice by experts from renowned companies on some of these trends and how they'll impact your organization in the coming year.

1. Enterprise App Stores

This is seen to be a key change in the way business apps are obtained and deployed on mobile devices, and something that will help organizations embrace BYOD. Leading mobile app vendors already have programs which enable organizations to create private apps that can be deployed to their employee's systems and devices without requiring those apps to be first published to the app stores. Apple for instance, has an enterprise program for its iOS platform. Similarly, Microsoft has already restricted Windows RT devices to obtain applications only from the Windows Store. But, organizations can still install line-of-business apps by sideloading. At the recently held Microsoft TechDays across the country, Microsoft talked about how sideloading LOB apps increases the possibilities of productivity in Windows RT.

2. Hybrid IT and Cloud Computing

We spoke to experts from Symantec, Hitachi Data Systems, and Dell to find out their perspectives on the way forward with cloud computing in the new year and its impact on organizations. Presented here are their views.

Administrative and managerial implications of cloud computing on your IT department

Anand Naik: Lately, it seems as if every organization – from large enterprises to SMBs – has its head in the clouds. IT demands efficiency, business units demand flexibility, and end users demand convenience. Add growing budget pressures into the mix, and it's easy to understand why people are turning toward cloud computing. While evaluating the cloud, one should bear in mind that this model brings efficiency, ease and cost-effectiveness for IT, but also the scalability and productivity benefits that the business organization demands. Therefore, while cloud computing is an IT mandate, it is also driven by business needs and impacts the risk teams. This means that IT needs to work across departments to ensure that the promised gains are achieved.

Further, IT needs to understand that cloud changes the paradigm for securing and managing information. Some areas for consideration include:

1. Misaligned expectations: Cloud is fuzzy and poorly defined. Cloud projects are even less well defined. Many gaps exist across organizations and in the market, leading to unrealistic expectations and hence the “failure” of cloud projects.

2. Unprepared IT Organizations: Many IT organizations have a siloed approach to cloud, with cloud initiatives being separate from regular IT operations. While cloud is different in many ways, in an ideal world the management of cloud should be included within existing policies, tools etc.

3. Compliance: For many companies that are publicly traded or regulated, compliance plays a major role in their approach to cloud. The ability to completely prove compliance to regulations with compelling audit and reporting often holds back organizations from moving to the cloud.

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4. Data Access Control: Finally, 'security' is often the top cloud concern cited by IT. When you dig deeper, it is usually concerns about who will have access to my data, and what assurances can be implemented to make sure my information is kept out of the hands of the wrong people.

Yogesh Sawant: We at Hitachi have seen that a lot of times, in case of SMEs who have their IT infrastructure on their own premises, most of the IT department's time is spent on administrative tasks and management of that infrastructure, even setting up the infrastructure in the first place. Mundane activities of management, scalability, surveillance, are increasingly being outsourced. Once these are moved to the cloud, IT departments can focus on more important tasks. A lot of efforts of the IT department go into storage management for instance. We have observed that 65% of storage costs are of an administrative nature.

Amit Luthra: Enterprises and SMEs in particular are undergoing a massive shift in their IT infrastructure from setting up cloud infrastructure to security of applications, network etc. CTOs, CIOs and IT pros have to capitalize on this sea of change and fight to stay relevant in new cloud environments.

Larger organizations have the technical expertise and resources to better utilize IT infrastructure or adapt to new technologies as compared to smaller businesses. When it comes to utilizing modern computing technology in order to get a leg up in competition; SMEs usually fall short as they often lack the platform infrastructure, technical expertise and necessary financial resources. But with Cloud Computing and Services SMEs can use and pay for their computing requirements as and when the need arises. Additionally, the SMEs are also able to scale up or down the Cloud services as needed.

There are certain things that IT managers need to be aware of when it comes to cloud adoption. Despite its advantages there are a few potential issues that might negatively affect adoption of this technology and services. Firstly, adequate planning to decide the migration path to Cloud Computing and Services is highly critical. Not all applications are suitable for the Cloud. In particular, it is not economical to adopt some legacy systems for migration to the Cloud. Secondly, SMEs need to be aware of data security, compliance, and reliability if they are planning to migrate some applications to the Cloud. Thirdly, managers need to be aware of the so called “Cloud latency” that creates system performance delay due to the long distance and the fact that large data files and services may need to jump through a few network routers before they get to their destination.

Controlling how applications and services in the cloud are consumed by the workforce

Anand Naik: While the IT organization is often tasked with a move to the cloud, concerns around data security, privacy, regulatory compliance and information governance do exist. However, cloud does not translate into a loss of control. In fact, IT organizations now have the option of shifting risk to a cloud service provider, who is bound by strict service level agreements. In fact, this can also avoid over provisioning and under provisioning of resources, and eliminate waste and cost overruns. Further, a large provider can offer bigger, redundant resources for HA than an internal IT department could provide on its own. Enterprises can also hold their cloud vendor to higher Recovery Point Objectives (RPO) and Recovery Time Objectives (RTO) than they could provide with their current internal IT operations.

The cloud model requires secure interfaces between users and endpoints (the outermost devices on a network); between endpoints and backend infrastructure; and between services. Data confidentiality, integrity, and availability issues must be identified and addressed. Data access and availability requirements (e.g. 99.99% availability or higher) must be formalized into concise statements. Organizations need to ensure that their privacy and security compliance needs are met, including secure access when connecting to cloud services-such as authentication/authorization, endpoint security validation, and security in the data center. In short, there are four aspects that IT should bear in mind to retain control: policy definition and enforcement, identity protection, authentication and management, information protection, and infrastructure security and management to ensure high availability.

Yogesh Sawant: SLAs will govern the service need. I don't see the IT department having any need to control the applications and services explicitly. The IT department should spend more time in governance, application feasibility and increasing security.

Amit Luthra: The movement to the cloud has caused internal IT staff to refocus their efforts to application management. They are forced to become more involved in the process of selecting which applications to host in the cloud, as well as keeping a close eye on how those applications are supported and integrated across the firm's environment. In many cases, they end up managing their relationship with the cloud service provider much like they do with ISPs [Internet service providers].

Role of IT department as a 'broker' between the workforce and cloud solutions' provider

Anand Naik: The workforce does not always understand – or need to understand – the IT model of their employer. Today they demand secure, anytime-anywhere access to information and application, while the business looks at cloud as a means of improving scalability, flexibility, cost-efficiencies, and productivity. The IT department needs to understand and balance these requirements while ensuring that information is secure and well-managed. It would be wrong to look at IT purely as a “broker”; rather the IT team is an enabler of the above benefits. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the new demands that strategic trends such as cloud, virtualization and mobility pose, IT needs to adapt to these changes such that they can make employees' use of these technologies a reality based on IT's terms (including information protection strategies that include policies, DLP, mobile device management and mobile application management), not the other way around. To achieve a safe clouds environment, IT needs to enforce rigorous cloud strategies around the protection of policy, information, people and infrastructures.

The role of IT in the cloud landscape has multiple facets: ensuring that SLAs around data security, privacy and availability are met, educating the workforce about the right processes and behaviors, defining and enforcing policies, and so on. But among all these, IT must not lose sight of the most important business asset: information. Today, organizations need stronger information governance for managing corporate information and enabling confidence in the cloud. The success of cloud computing hinges on the trust and confidence that can only occur when the information security teams and IT vendors have better visibility into the security posture and operations of cloud initiatives.

Yogesh Sawant: I do not see them as a broker. For most organizations, IT is not the business itself, the business is the particular vertical where they are focused. I see the role of the IT department as providing more value to the organization by bringing down costs substantially.

Amit Luthra: The cloud means IT roles will shift from hands-on work with hardware and installations to resource management, integration, capacity planning and technical architecture. As a result, IT roles will evolve from “systems admins” and “systems architects” to “cloud admins” and “cloud architects.” This change creates new opportunities for IT professionals to learn new skills and grow within their organizations.

Strategic Big Data

We speak to experts from AGC Networks and Hitachi Data Systems on the relevance of Big Data for SMEs and whether they should deploy it in the coming year. Here's what they had to say.

1. Should SMEs deploy Big Data solutions per individual project or as an integral part of their entire information architecture?

Amit Bishnoi: Looking at IT adoption by SMEs in India, Big Data is a good-to-have technology and not must-have. Even SMEs would agree that there is potential growth in aligning the unstructured data with business's transactional data. But does Indian SME have technology inclination and acumen to manage and implement Big Data, that is a question.

With most SMEs moving from voice to nascent stage of data and applications, I think it is still too early for us to believe that Indian SMEs will move the Big Data way. It is anyway yet to be accepted by largest of the enterprises, not just in India but across the globe. The only good sign is, evolvement of low cost and simplified technologies. This will make the adoption sooner than we know. Another factor which will complement the acceptance is availability of project based usage and that too on an outsourced model can make it an integral part of SMEs IT plan.

Yogesh Sawant: SMEs are not looking at the big picture of the overly-hyped Big Data. Big Data comes into the picture when human-driven data comes in, such as from social media. This is different from transaction-processing data which is very much structured. Human-driven data is usually unstructured. There is also machine-driven data such as those from biometrics products, video surveillance equipment, etc. When you use analytics with these sources of data, you transform the huge quantity of data into information. Individual projects drive Big Data.

2. Which are the specialized file systems available for use today that are optimized for Big Data? What does this mean for developers who are implementing Big Data solutions?

Amit Bishnoi: With terabytes of unstructured information be accessed and analyzed we definitely cannot do with normal storage and processing applications. This information further needs to get integrated. The inbuilt structured database generated within enterprise's premised and on top of it needs to have a backup too. With all these in picture no enterprise can afford to have a slow processing. Hence today enterprises prefer to have a filing system which is in parallel accessed by business application and data crunching is done at multiple nodes. This also cannot be an expensive proposition so enterprises are looking at virtual option.

The first step would include that an enterprise will move the virtual / open source way or undertake a storage, network and application upgrade. Then enterprise would need to define various parameters for data to flow, get crunched and give output. This means a lot of overhauling on architecture aligned with business' requirement from data needs to be defined. In between somewhere you would need to allocate resources for experimentation stage where you can review and observe the outputs. And if need be, revise the whole process.

To manage all these there are options available from leading technology companies like IBM, Oracle, etc. who have built their own specialized filing systems with great customizable features.

Yogesh Sawant: You will hear other Big Data solutions' providers stating that they make use of Hadoop. We use distributed object store instead and have put it into our infrastructure.

3. How is the capex and opex of an SME affected if it chooses to deploy Big Data on a global scale rather than specific to a project?

Amit Bishnoi: Cost definitely is a critical factor for considering adoption of Big Data. That's why I feel Big Data will see adoption in SMEs only with an Opex, outsourced model. The solution would also need to be offered as a Managed Service which promises and delivers value in short term and larger value in long term.

This highlights the importance of a service provider to understand SME's business model and offer cost effective, flexible solutions which are built specifically for client's industry and delivers quick results.

Yogesh Sawant: Big Data is focused on the top-line revenue, not a part of the entire information architecture but of a particular project. An SMB will not have the bandwidth to use Big Data on a global scale.

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