Seven Layers of Cloud Computing

Business and IT flexibility go hand in hand.

September 14, 2010

By Jay Liebe and Jason Mendenhall

Mastering cloud computing is as much about keeping up with the market space as it is about understanding what each vendor provides. The categories you’ll use depend on your credit union’s architecture and requirements.

However, there are seven fundamental layers that you’ll require and certain things to look for within each layer:

1. Data center facility

Data centers are classified into tier levels from one to four (one is least available and four is most available). Classification is a way of expressing the average expected uptime percentage based on redundant systems and the site’s fault tolerance.

Credit unions should examine a data center’s physical security attributes: access control, intrusion detection, video surveillance, full-time security staff, and ongoing security training.

2. Server compute capacity

Perhaps the most important reason for leveraging cloud capacities is to quickly gain access to multiple computers for compute capacity when needed.

With cloud computing, credit unions rent servers; they don’t own them. If traffic spikes at certain times (i.e., holidays or pay periods), using the cloud can be the ideal answer to boost compute capacity.

3. Storage capacity

Although the cost per gigabyte of storage has declined rapidly over the past few years, the increased use of storage has more than made up for it.

The use of cloud computing for storage capacity is ideal, especially for spikes in use. Because the use of the cloud entails low or no upfront capital costs and low ongoing operational costs, the ability to take advantage of pools of resources on demand in real-time can provide a key business advantage.

4. Green IT

Enterprise data centers' growing power use has been well documented and is a growing environmental issue.

Cloud computing is a shared service—capacity utilization is much higher than with traditional enterprise computing, and organizations don’t have to set up and power unused hardware.

5. Elasticity and resizability

Elasticity represents the ability to be highly flexible—nearly instantaneously—to changes in volume. This may be the most compelling reason to consider cloud computing.

With cloud computing, an infrastructure supporting an application, business, or business process can be easily resized and right-sized, depending on conditions. Business flexibility and information technology (IT) flexibility go hand in hand.

6. Security

Examine potential security risks beginning with the networking layer, the provider’s operations, and then the cloud application.

While security is a top concern, it’s also a big selling point for cloud computing, especially for credit unions that may not be able to afford to have their own top-flight IT security staff.

7. Connectivity reliability

The key to connectivity is selecting a carrier-neutral data center. The cloud service should use multiple Internet or network service providers to achieve the best connection network and provide the lowest costs.

One thing is certain: Regardless of the necessary computing platform, your technology is only as good as the infrastructure running it.

Jay Liebe is director of integration and Jason Mendenhall is executive vice president at Switch Communications Group, which operates Switch SuperNAP, one of the nation's 10 largest data centers.

An exclusive tour of Switch SuperNAP is offered during the CUNA Technology Council Conference, Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 in Las Vegas.