As an IT infrastructure business network consultant, I have had the opportunity to work on many small to mid market corporate networks. From rock solid and secure (although is anything really secure these days?) to really shoddy excuses for a business network. My job is to help – to be able to look at both the big picture functionality and efficiency of the network as well as the details of what makes it work properly and securely or not to so securely (as I have come to find all too often). There is a certain confidence you get when you can actually see the datacenter, the physical security and the underlying hardware on which precious company data is housed. Having the ability to look at that Cisco ASA firewall, observe all the green lights on your EMC SAN or HP server array hard drives, and know that you have built so much redundancy into the Client and you have covered all your bases should there be an issue is what I thrive on. It’s a good feeling knowing that if you can sleep at night because their data is protected then your Client can rest easy also.
Enter Cloud Computing and its inevitable revolution of providing “As a Service” for everything including your refrigerator. Say goodbye to the traditional “Small Business Network Consultant” at least as we know it. Why put a “Microsoft Small Business Server” in your office for thousands of dollars when you can pay monthly for more services and flexibility? (Maybe one reason is because the Microsoft Small business server does not exist anymore – but we wont go there just yet.)
A sad truth is many organizations (even startups) are now bypassing the Consultant and spinning up servers by reading directions on the hosting companies website. OK so not everyone can do this but if you are even slightly tech savvy you can get through some of the wizards and viola – you have a server and you did not have to pay a consultant!! Pretty cool huh – that you had your web developer put up a database and file server for you in the cloud and your livelihood is running on it!
Well on the surface that may have been a good cost saving business decision but wait there’s more ……..
There is a very scary part to this scenario that I have observed over the last two years. Companies are bypassing traditional common sense security practices assuming that the servers and databases the put up in the cloud are secure. Because they skipped over the “network design and consulting” step basic security principles are not being followed. There are major assumptions about the underlying hardware and redundancy (or lack of) provided by the hosting provider. I have seen companies that are doing business with fortune 100 companies that do not have any firewall or intrusion detection solution, and have servers that have no business being public facing with dangerous and unnecessary ports open to the outside world. I have seen servers are built with zero redundancy. Companies have invested tens of thousands of dollars on application development and customization but yet they have no methodology for backing up the images of these servers. While the hosting company they are using provides various services including firewalls, imaging, and high availability, they are not implemented. Entire architectures have been built with significant “single points of failure”. The basic building blocks of traditional network security and efficiency are being skipped because it was easy and inexpensive to do, and these folks clearly were not given proper direction. Unfortunately this is not just one company, I am seeing this over and over again.
We can’t just lay blame on the companies (well maybe). Are we a dying breed or has the Small Business Network Consultant not adapted quickly enough to the Cloud paradigm? We can’t just sit on that MCSE Certification from 10 years ago and hope none of our clients “catch on to this whole cloud thing”. Consultants need to educate themselves to truly consult in this rapidly changing environment. There is an immense amount of cloud based infrastructure technology out there to learn and the industry is maturing quickly. Amazon Web Services has developed an entire curriculum and certification program around their services. Microsoft is modifying many of their partner competencies and certifications to adapt to their Azure and Office 365 service offerings. There are also many third party solutions are out there that fill the gaps missing from the hosting providers.
Good network consultants are desperately needed to right the ships of many companies that have strayed into uncharted clouds. So if you are an IT Consultant that has lost your way, get it in gear, start learning, and start consulting again! And if you are a Business Owner or IT Director in the midst of making decisions on Cloud infrastructure, call your friendly neighborhood IT Consultant.