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Moving to cloud a big leap of faith for network managers

Aug. 23, 2012 - 04:19PM   |  

For some federal network managers, the topic of cloud computing causes palms to sweat and hearts to race.

That is because “moving to the cloud” really constitutes a huge leap of faith for managers used to controlling every switch, router, firewall and wire that makes their network responsive. In short, it’s about ceding a lot of control, said Joe Beal, director of security services and chief information security officer at Creative Computing Solutions Inc., a program management and information technology services firm.

These managers are transitioning from being infrastructure and systems owners to data owners, Beal said.

In public cloud environments, that data is stored on servers owned by a cloud service provider. For Google’s government customers, the company agrees to make data available 99.99 percent of the time, which involves backing up data in the cloud on multiple servers in at least two data centers, said Eran Feigenbaum, director of security for Google Apps. The duty of providing disaster recovery services falls on the cloud provider.

“All I have to worry about is that my users have a redundant, reliable connection to the Internet,” Feigenbaum said about federal network managers. “It shifts your philosophy [from] my network is ... my four walls [to] my network is the connection to the world,” he said.

Network managers, however, must still ensure that cloud providers are meeting service standards and user expectations.

There are other challenges, too.

As part of the federal data center consolidation initiative, agencies are tasked with moving more data into fewer data centers.

Agencies are challenged with ensuring that the infrastructure connecting users to applications in the data centers is able to deliver more data without slowing the user experience, said Edward Morche, senior vice president of Level 3 government markets.

Morche suggests that agencies work with their Internet service providers to ensure they have the needed connectivity between data centers and determine their needs for high-speed connection and high bandwidth.

David Mihalchik, head of Google Apps for Government business development and sales, said cloud providers like Google can also help agencies free up network capacity. The company’s cloud solution provides anti-spam and antivirus capabilities to filter email content before it ends up on an agency’s network, Mihalchik said. Cloud solutions can also help agencies securely send and encrypt data traveling over any network, he said.

Despite the security concerns of moving to the cloud, some agencies and network managers are touting increased cost savings and improved security.

Cloud computing allows users in separate organizations to collaborate via the cloud and provide limited access only to data that is needed, said Khawaja Shams, manager of data services for tactical operations at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The alternative is providing outside organizations with a virtual private network connection to data on the network, but agencies run the risk of giving them more access to the network than needed, Shams said.

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