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How cloud brings smoother remote working to organisations
There's plenty of demand for mobile computing within the workplace - what role does cloud have to play?
Putting your applications close to the users
When you're using a cloud application – a large-scale one, anyhow – the application vendor is most likely using Global Load Balancing (GLB) to present the application as close to the user as possible. So in an ideal world, a user in London accessing the app would hit a UK data centre's instance of the app while a user in New York might hit one on the east coast of the US. This is achieved by having application instances in multiple locations and having data replicated and/or cached in multiple locations so that in the average case the data is close to the user.
So why not consider doing this for your in-house applications? Just because you can't cloud the application doesn't mean you can't use cloud technology to improve their performance.
Now, you could do some basic stuff for almost no money using clever DNS lookups, but this is far from optimal; a better approach (in theory anyhow) is to look at the GLB offerings in the market place from a horde of vendors – Cisco, Zeus (now RiverBed), F5, the list goes on. The thing is, though, a hardware-based installation is a hard one to justify to the bean-counters when you consider that £20k+ is a perfectly normal price tag for a single GLB appliance in a single location.
The obvious answer, then, is to use a cloud GLB service. You'll almost certainly be able to try it for free to make sure it's suitable for you, and services from the likes of Akamai can cost just a few pence per gigabyte so long as you're doing non-trivial traffic volumes. Frankly for a small or medium business I'd find it extremely hard to justify procuring an in-house implementation, give the capital cost and the operational cost and effort of supporting it.
Virtualising the VPN
So we've spoken about getting users efficient access to cloud application instances, and ensuring that an in-house application is as close as possible to the point at which the user hits the corporate network at his or her local point of presence. So why can't we go the whole hog and outsource the remote access service itself?
Unsurprisingly, of course, you can. Providers such as Quantix and Virtela now offer cloud-based remote access services that allow you to throw out the idea of having in-house remote access servers and instead let a third party worry about maintaining the equipment, data centres and such like.
Particularly attractive is the fact that as with pretty much any cloud infrastructure service, the hosted offerings tend to have a pile of value-add extras alongside the core functionality. So don't be surprised to be offered multi-factor authentication, network access control (ie checking that each client machine is patched and has up-to-date AV protection before admitting it), and perhaps a few gratuitous extras that don't necessarily fit such as web collaboration services.
This is just the kind of thing that cloud providers throw in to persuade you to use their service instead of the competition's, and it's great for the customer to have such a range of additional functionality to exploit over and above the basic requirement.
Generally speaking, then, there are attractive cloud offerings for pretty well all aspects of mobile computing. Cloud-based applications can be accessed via sites closest to the users, with integration with (and replication of the required content from) directory services thus alleviating the client to connect via the corporate network.
In-house applications can be made to perform using global load balancing services. And remarkably we can even outsource the provision of our remote access into our in-house applications into the cloud – which sounds like a contradiction in terms but is actually a hugely attractive concept that generally offers far more features than we originally considered asking for.
And of course, it's woefully unfortunate to discard such options out of hand, since you may well discover that the cloud offering is cheaper as well as easier to implement, and has all of its support, upgrade and patching dealt with invisibly – and for free – by the service provider.