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// 12 Jan 2021

The Way Forward: Cloud Computing in a COVID-19 World

Sandeep Soni

A version of this article originally appeared in  ET Insights: “Tackling the COVID-19 Storm with Cloud”

From governments sealing the borders and implementing lockdowns to businesses facing the threat of becoming irrelevant and consumers undergoing a hard reset of priorities, the world was not prepared for the disruption that followed the footsteps of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight, there was a radical transformation in the existing business ecosystem, with accelerated digitization of business processes and remote working becoming the mainstay in many industries.

In this scenario, most companies have started moving workloads to cloud in the interest of building business resilience and continuity. NASSCOM predicts that cloud spend in India is estimated to grow at 30% p.a. to reach $7.1- 7.2 billion by 2022.

A key enabler for business continuity

With the onset of the pandemic, cloud computing has transformed from a ‘good to have’ to a ‘must-have’ – an invisible yet a crucial element in the business arsenal in these challenging times. It has ramped-up the adoption of technology by businesses and governments in order to implement solutions required for crisis management, better workforce engagement, and more importantly, for mitigating operational risks. The benefits accruing to the shift from on-site datacenters to offsite cloud data computing include improved cost efficiencies, higher flexibility, and an enhanced competitive edge.

Hence, cloud is the need of the hour, with organizations looking for ways to access critical process applications as well as scale up their infrastructure without an unnecessary addition to manpower. Case in point, a well-known life insurance company recently shifted its entire infrastructure to public cloud that not just allows it to leverage scalability, but also access new technologies in a pay-as-you-go pricing model.

In this ‘new normal’, cloud is serving as the backbone of a robust remote working strategy by enabling seamless collaboration among the workforce. In fact, IT teams across companies can build, iterate, and evolve infrastructure in a way that was never possible with legacy systems. For instance, cloud computing has made it possible for the education system to transition from classroom learning to remote learning practically overnight! Microsoft, through its real-time collaboration platform, Microsoft Teams, has transitioned learning for more than a million students in the UAE within 10 days.

The need for data security in cloud

Migrating the enterprise data to cloud entails moving away from the traditional or legacy firewalls. This is a significant departure from on-premise IT infrastructure, which provides the organization full control over its data. However, the legacy setup has its own pitfalls, some of which include high setup and maintenance costs, limited scalability, frequent software upgrades, and the need for recruiting technical experts to configure, organize, manage and secure the data on internal servers. In addition, enterprises are increasingly becoming susceptible to ransomware attacks. As a result, internal data backup is no longer an infallible safety protocol.

On the other hand, while cloud-based solutions come with a long list of advantages, security remains one of the main areas of concern for organizations to fully move to a cloud framework. Security breach due to employee negligence and unauthorized access through misappropriated user credentials are some of the perceived shortcomings of cloud computing. This is further augmented by users logging onto cloud-based solutions through multiple devices, such as their smartphones, tablets, and personal computers, thus expanding the threat ecosystem of the organization.

Therefore, organizations and cloud providers need to have capabilities to periodically inspect data on cloud to ensure that the requisite safety checks are in place to prevent any insecure or inappropriate usage. A well-planned data backup and recovery strategy, as well as tools, play a pivotal role in enabling businesses to leverage the full potential of cloud. Lastly, with remote work in full swing, businesses must prioritize on-cloud security and governance tools, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and other key factors that can provide support to their remote workforce.

Leveraging cloud for data protection

Today, data is an invaluable asset for any business entity. However, it is fragmented across on-premises data centers, public clouds, and other SaaS data sources. Loss of data can result in irreversible damage to the business, in terms of productivity, revenue, reputation, and even customers. Businesses are seeking simplified user experience through simple and intuitive user interface that will provide them with a unified view of all their backup data, regardless of where data is managed, created or stored.

The traditional Disaster Recovery (DR) approach is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. It requires building a remote DR site, regular maintenance, and support from the company’s IT team. Additionally, the recovery and data protection are done manually.

In case of an unprecedented event, organizations can leverage the public cloud and various enterprise SaaS applications and quickly switch to Plan B. This is a better alternative as the integration of cloud services in DR entails storing critical data and applications in cloud, with backup in the form of a secondary site in case of a setback. As backup and DR can both be automated – the whole process is comparatively more cost-efficient, scalable, and reliable.

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is the foundation of an organization’s security program, through which it decides to adopt a ‘cloud-first’ or ‘cloud-only’ strategy. Establishing effective IAM policies ensures data privacy by restricting user access to resources, thereby preventing unauthorized access. In the past few years, Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) has evolved as a third-party managed service offered over the cloud on a subscription basis. The data protection-as-a-service market which includes the spend on backup and disaster recovery cloud services – is projected to reach the US$10 billion mark by 2022, according to IDC.

The way forward

In a post COVID-19 cloud era, will it be easier for businesses and technologies to respond to any change in the market? Will it be more secure and agile? With the business ecosystem going through such strong disruptions, the road ahead will be full of new challenges. In addition, with the rising adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and Big Data analytics, the value of cloud in organizations will only enhance with time, thus establishing it as a business technology ‘must-have’.