Pandemic stress test: The open source cloud is up to the challenge | Opensource.com

Pandemic stress test: The open source cloud is up to the challenge

The benefits of the cloud are being brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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We all know that modern business has become a rapid-response environment. Never before have we had the number of IT resources at the tips of our fingers as we have today, and most of them are enabled by the cloud. When we refer to "the cloud", we may be talking about several computing concepts, but typically the cloud consists of a set of remotely-hosted resources and services, from web pages to mobile apps or even traditional desktop applications.

The cloud continuously transforms our connectivity on a global scale. It can be found everywhere, from our vehicles to our phones and even to our watches. From what we are witnessing right now, the cloud may ultimately safely carry numerous organizations through a global crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a global remote workforce of millions of people, nearly overnight. The move has generated a sharp rise in the demand for cloud providers, forcing many of the digital productivity and collaboration tool providers to adjust their service offerings and, in many cases, strengthen their own safety and security infrastructure to manage the surging need.

What many people don't realize is that the cloud is largely driven by open source technology. The actual infrastructure of the cloud consists of physical servers, but they're situated in large clusters acting as one super computer. A super computer needs an operating system, just like any computer does, and the "operating system" of the global cloud is a collection of several significant open source projects.

Stress testing the cloud

In a report published by Omdia earlier this year, it was forecasted that the global contact center market would grow from 21.3% to 39.7% by 2023.

The report also looked at the number of agent seats operating in the cloud compared to on-premises, and it found that agent seats continued to shift towards the cloud at a staggering rate. Omdia has been tracking the upsurge in cloud vendor activities during the crisis and is finding more obvious increments in the cloud-based agent seat implementations, a trend that is expected to continue into 2021.

The global pandemic has created a magnitude of demands upon the cloud industry, but for the most part the cloud has proven capable of meeting the challenge. Apart from the global contact center industry, healthcare, and financial services that have been cloud-based for some time, other vital segments around the world have largely shifted to cloud deployments as well.

In some instances, there have been up to 700% more connections to the cloud over the past two months. Some of the other business-critical day-to-day activities and functionalities now being enabled by cloud technologies include:

  • Real-Time—Just think about the financial sector's dependence on cloud technologies. None of the analytical and trading applications would be able to operate without real-time capacities.
  • Streaming—Without rapid, scalable content capabilities and quality of service networking, media companies and global organizations would not be able to run across the world on almost any connected device.
  • Experience—Our smartphones would be mere mobile phones if we did not have access to the rapid experience and access to data currently provided and protected by the cloud. Business applications would have had to go back to the dark ages, trying to synchronize their online and offline data.
  • Rapid Data—Whether it is big data or AI, rapid data systems enable almost everything we take for granted—from research to analytics. The cloud gives networks uniformity, providing solutions for everyday challenges and simplifying our workdays. The cloud has, in essence, become the new supercomputer.

All in all, the pandemic has been the most severe stress test the cloud has yet experienced, and arguably by extension the most severe test open source has yet endured. The results, however, speak for itself. Open source is up to the task, even without warning.

Securing your data with a hybrid cloud

Data security in the cloud environment has long been one of the biggest concerns for IT departments, and it's easy to see why. If a network is not protected from security threats, damaging breaches can occur that can cost organizations millions of dollars.

However, the "bring your own cloud" (BYOC) movement effectively places IT departments in a situation where they're forced into user-led cloud adoption, leaving no room to make educated decisions about cloud storage providers and which services they needed or expected. While many companies have embraced the benefits of the BYOC movement, few anticipated potential insider threats. For instance, a report by the Ponemon Institute found that most employers had no idea how many applications and cloud services their employees were using, and even worse, they had no idea which data or information their employees were exposing, where it went, or who it was shared with.

As networking in the cloud is always changing, employees use these applications with the best intentions but are also often unaware of the risks that come with any of their unsecured devices.

A popular and vital answer to this problem is a hybrid cloud. An organization may opt to use a mixture of on-premises infrastructure plus cloud-based services. By owning part of the cloud their employees access, organizations can ensure that important company data stays in the company. There are several open source projects that make an on-premises cloud possible:

  • Kubernetes: Create quickly scalable services with Kubernetes. By running services in containers, you can scale out when more people have a need for the service simultaneously, and scale up when general usage grows.
  • GlusterFS or Ceph: The file system you use on your cloud is more important than the file system you choose for your own computer. On the cloud, you need data redundancy and availability. Both GlusterFS and Ceph are finely tuned to perform in clusters, so your user data is always close at hand.
  • Docker and Podman: When people refer to "containers", the're talking about small, self-contained virtual Linux systems (actually namespaces). Docker and Podman both make creating, running, and maintaining containers easy enough for even a stressed IT team still learning the technology. 

Time for action

Modern organizations are increasingly dependent on their digital infrastructure, a fact that has been highlighted more than ever by the COVID-19 crisis.

With the current distribution of workforces worldwide, the unquestionable value that the cloud provides can no longer be refuted. The cloud's flexible options, which have now been implemented and enabled very quickly, have enabled us to keep our business operations up and running with even more benefits to several major industries such as healthcare.

We should, however, become aware of the associated risks and remember to stay vigilant in order to keep our business networks and infrastructure as safe as possible.

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About the author

Sam Bocetta - Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, a defense analyst, and a freelance journalist. He specializes in finding radical solutions to "impossible"​ ballistics problems. He covers trends in IoT Security, encryption, cryptography, cyberwarfare, and cyberdefense.