While there are many definitions of the cloud, there is commonality between many of them. As a general guideline, the cloud involves offloading intensive computing processes, their related infrastructures, software and personnel resources to maintain them by an offsite third party. In turn, the customer will consume functionality remotely through a web browser, as they require, and pay accordingly.
The key to getting past the varying perspectives and sales pitches is to form your own meaningful definition that has both context and relevance to what you are looking to solve. For new solutions, you can categorize what would be hosted vs. in-house, who would manage various aspects of it, and perform a gap analysis between solutions to determine the differences.
Be aware that there are different types of clouds. As the space matures, both subtle and drastic differences between them continue to take shape in forms of SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, and others. Don’t be put off or confused by them. While it is great to learn about them all, stick to your core intent to apply it to your environment, effort and goals. It is much more important to understand what you are looking to achieve and conveying this in plain terms to potential solution providers and peers.
The Upside for Security
Implementing an access control system across multiple buildings is traditionally a large project that entails planning, resources, skills, time and funding. It does not happen overnight, and for the large enterprise, it can be quite painful. There is a growing realization that selectively opening up the network to a specific partner to deliver cloud services can reap large rewards.
For example, a cloud service would already be built on a remote server — features, capability, workflows, reporting, etc. — and ready for consumption when it is demanded. Then, connecting to the service for consumption would occur via compatible IT-based “web services” protocols. This would be very simple for those providers that subscribe to them. It may require some configuration via a web interface, but the low-level details, timelines, contractors, skills required and cost are drastically reduced.
While simplicity and cost by themselves alone are great benefits, there are a few other side-effects inherently tied to this model that make it unique. For one, because it is pre-built, potential customers can quickly and easily try a production version of the product with little or no investment; then, if it is decided to move forward as a paying customer, just continue.
For vendors to be successful with cloud offerings they must be able to effectively manage their environment, feature sets, quality of service and profitability. In order to achieve this, they need scale, which means acquiring multiple customers using the same infrastructure. Thus, the cloud is essentially cost sharing across customers that have similar requirements.
This model creates some very welcomed benefits. Since customers share the same service, and vendors must run them in a similar way to achieve efficiency, if you are having a problem, your fellow customers probably are as well. A cloud provider cannot afford to have many of its customers pick up and leave to another provider, so your problem is certainly their problem too. Most likely, the provider is monitoring this all the time and fixing things while you are unaware there are even issues — another benefit.
End-users do not need to make large capital investments to get off the ground and add license as their business demands. This comes in handy during those times where user populations are uncertain or heading into major mergers and acquisitions. If the contract is written effectively, you can scale down as easily as you scaled up.
Many organizations also find that the tax implications from a “service” (like a cloud service) are amortized and depreciated more favorably than capital investments. These aspects can cascade substantial savings .
The Hybrid Approach
While the transformation from copper to Ethernet mitigates a key obstacle, the fundamental challenge that physical access is heavily hardware-based — particularly at the end-point — remains. This can inhibit delivering everything through a web browser from a remote server.