NCSAM Day 9: The Cloud Isn’t A Magical Place

Traditional IT environments generally required the coordination of different people and different teams to turn on a new service.  There might have been a datacenter person involved, a network person, a server person, a firewall person, and an application person involved, each playing a part to install a new server, connect it to the network, install and configure the operating system, install and configure the application, and finally, open expose the application through the firewall.  Some of those functions were consolidated into the same person or team, but in most cases, each function felt ownership for their role and generally had a set of guidelines some level of competence, including knowing what questions to ask, and when to push back if something seems too risky with a planned deployment.

All of this necessarily added up to delays and inefficiencies.  Reducing or eliminating these delays are one of the many benefits that cloud computing offers: we no longer need to rack servers; installing operating systems is automated through orchestration tools; the provider offers an easy to configure software defined network; and so on.  The move to cloud reduces or eliminates many of the IT specializations, like sysadmin, network engineer, or firewall engineer.  In the cloud, those functions no longer exist as specialties, and depending on the way in which cloud is used (for example cloud native versus rehoming server images to the cloud), simply may not be required at all.

The cloud isn’t magical though, and it still requires good security practices, and those must very likely happen without the watchful eye of the delay inducing specialists.  The way that many organizations that successfully adopt the cloud, and related practices, such as devops, is using scripted processes that are designed to ensure environments are created, configured, and managed in a secure(ish) manner.

All this despite most cloud providers’ claims that their cloud is “secure”.  Hopefully it’s apparent what the providers mean, and what they don’t mean:  generally, their description as “secure” refers to the components of the cloud infrastructure that the provider is responsible for managing, and it is understood that the cloud consumer is responsible for managing and securing everything else, which is quite a lot.

Embracing cloud isn’t just saving capital expenses and laying off administrators.  The agility and speed require even tighter processes than traditional IT, but those processes can hopefully be scripted, automated, and orchestrated.  An organization moving to the cloud needs to invest in the right skills and tools to keep the environment secure.  Unfortunately, these skills are in high demand right now, but that is the tradeoff.

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