A Business Lifeline? You Bet. The Important Role of Infrastructure-as-a-Service
Enterprises throughout the US and Canada have kept cyberattacks--those costly, time-wasting online business disruptors--at bay for years. Company IT professionals demonstrated a degree of success in repelling email virus and phishing scams, ransomware and denial-of-service attacks. But since early 2020, a human virus has forced businesses to deploy information technology strategies in a different way. One that allowed millions of employees to work securely from home to comply with state-imposed, stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the illness. While shop employees cannot be outside the shop, save those who perform administrative or reporting duties, considering the shift to a cloud-based, off-premise platform, can be the right path even for those who work at the truck. Enter Infrastructure-as-a-Service.
Over the past few years, IT teams have a full arsenal of cloud computing services at their disposal including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the challenge IT faced to develop solutions that let workers telecommute without risking cyberattacks or other forms of espionage. Arguably the coronavirus fast-tracked the development of systems for remote workers to securely connect to company computer networks and data using unsecured personal computers and smartphones from homes with unprotected networks and Internet connections.
How Infrastructure-as-a-Service Fits in the Equation
Prior to the pandemic, there was an expectation in transportation and other industries that virtual private networks (VPN) would allow for remote network access. But the unprecedented number of workplaces that were closed forced innumerable companies to turn to the internet as a service to provide secure access to company networks and data.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) emerged fewer than ten years ago and provides secure access from any location that can access the Internet. The worst health emergency in decades will likely accelerate the adoption of IaaS, even further than the November 2019 forecast from research firm Gartner Inc.
“The cloud managed-service landscape is becoming increasingly sophisticated and competitive,” said Sig Nag, research vice president at Gartner. “In fact, by 2022, up to 60% of organizations will use an external service provider’s cloud-managed service offering, which is double the percentage of organizations from 2018.”
While VPNs may have been the connection of choice in the past, newer connectivity models using web-based solutions such as IaaS offer greater security, stability and availability. This recent trend was demonstrated as more workers logged in to corporate networks from home using VPNs, and was then backed again when the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated cyberattackers were exploiting more vulnerabilities. Since VPNs are used 24/7, continual use makes them less likely to be updated with software patches because security updates would require disrupting employees’ access. While managed services teams often complete these activities for hosted customers requiring VPN access, on-prem customers are responsible to keep their systems current and up to industry standards. IaaS takes the process one step further by eliminating VPN requirements entirely.
VPNs also have a finite number of connection points, limiting the number of employees who can access networks remotely. Finally, the DHS warned that companies not using multi-factor authentication would be more susceptible to phishing attacks.
According to one computer technology corporation, IaaS helps IT departments focus on high-value activities rather than patching, updating and monitoring against attacks of on-premise IT infrastructure. Similarly, many transportation-related firms lack the opportunity to design and implement proper data back-up and disaster recovery strategies, two critical functions that are handled by an IaaS provider.
Since IaaS is a pay-as-you-go model, companies typically experience faster application speeds while reducing IT costs. However, one analyst wrote that only when IT departments assess their true computing needs before switching to IaaS do they see reduced costs.
In a recent Bain & Company brief, Mark Brinda noted 84% of on-premise IT workloads are “overprovisioned” or overestimated. That means “when companies migrate a workload to the cloud, they’re sending excess capacity along with it.”
Assessing actual IT requirements can uncover “a great deal of fragmentation and duplication with workloads scattered across machines and data centers,” he said. “Our experience shows that companies that right-size their workloads can cut costs by as much as 30% to 60% when they migrate them….”
The Security of it All
After companies have invested significant financial and human resources to secure their networks and data, making their IT assets available in the cloud can be unsettling to chief information officers who fear cyberattacks. But analysis from Gartner has shown IaaS providers have a solid history of data security.
In its January 2020 white paper “The Top 10 Cloud Myths,” Gartner indicated cloud computing early on had its security challenges compared to on-premise networks.
“However,” Gartner wrote, "there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud, and most breaches continue to involve a misconfiguration of the cloud service. Today, the majority of cloud providers invest significantly in security, realizing that their business would be at risk without doing so.”
As a result, security strategies and tactics should be jointly developed and implemented by both the IaaS provider and the transportation and logistics industry customer.
Commerce rallied back for the second half of 2020. One of the long-lasting side effects of COVID-19 will be faster, safer remote access to networks and data. Some transportation services-related companies will continue exploring and deploying IaaS while others will onboard over the next few quarters or surely before the next wave of economic uncertainty hits.