New dog, old tricks: data management in the cloud

By Mark Woolfenden | 16 July 2018

Every cloud has a silver lining, at least that's what our elders drummed into us, an early example of expectation management and how to deal with life's challenges. Other teaching proxies included looking after the family dog, a somewhat more practical and physical learning experience, involving across the board responsibilities of duty of care, maintenance and welfare for another living being.

Cloud computing for data management offers similar canine inspired opportunities for curating what can turn out to be a beast or a docile pet in equal measure. So let's run through the many considerations of responsible cloud ownership and their interpretation:

Dog wags tail

Not sure how your existing or new business plans will develop? Cloud computing offers the capability to scale your business costs that can flex with your business. New products and services can be underpinned by industrial strength platforms from the outset where implicit financial amortisation in cloud pricing can defer heavyweight costs until the value of new business allows both the visibility and budget to right size and reserve future capacity with further significant savings. Cloud computing offers easy set-up and integration, where IT infrastructure management is transformed into a few mouse clicks, handing off cost and risk and enabling the focus on specialist tasks that provide a company's competitive edge in its products and services.

Dog with a bone

For many old guard data management technologists, cloud computing is challenging the long-held tenet of never letting sensitive information go outside the firm’s four walls. Leading edge cloud computing providers will definitely have a bone to pick with that one. A dog’s favourite bone is usually old, decaying and with not much meat left on and not quite what it used to be. Time to bury tradition in what is anyway, a “paradigm's lost” world and embrace the cloud as a collective exorcism of the old school…it will not be so bad, you can do your "old" stuff on new platforms and much, much more.

Dog on a lead, not a leash

Cloud computing should be seen as a liberating, unconstrained experience; we all intuitively understand the principles of what can be achieved and where non-technical management can, in confidence, define the strategic direction of travel of their business without unreasonable cost overruns due to time-to-market delays. No longer should large, high inertia development projects be delayed by lengthy infrastructure roll-outs, where project management can focus more time on defining user requirements, early release, testing, re-testing and iterating that multiple times. Cloud computing supports far more frequent innovation and, through ruthless sifting and project kills, more successful returns on product development.

Dogs win prizes

The opportunities of cloud based business operation seem endless and include leading edge SaaS offerings of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning; a bit like grid computing but where the resources are commercially available to accelerate findings and increasing paybacks on investments. There's an argument to suggest that cloud computing is pre-requisite to handling and interrogating big data where growth in data capacity needs easily outpace traditional hardware procurement cycles and leave them for dust. Gold dust. After all this is the new age Klondike, isn't it?

Dog barks

The key concerns voiced about cloud computing are information security and cyber security and preventing malicious attacks.  Such concerns are focusing both the technical and commercial teams of all cloud computing providers, but is it hard to believe that the big three have bet the farm on their cloud futures without considering the reputational and ultimate financial damage such breaches may bring upon them. These multi-billion tech firms set aside considerable budgets to stay ahead of hackers from Loopy in the loft (AKA Fred in the shed) to nation state incursion attempts; nonetheless, these cloud giants still require an act of faith, in some cases a leap of faith, from users who have to place their trust in their selected product.

Improved fetch

Every dog owner knows that the further the ball is thrown, the longer the retrieval and the longer walk, the longer the retrieval times become. Not so with the cloud, which can re-size in almost real time to stabilise and provide consistent service level performance, from rapidly growing businesses based on cumulative repeat order revenue, to businesses that have to deliver seamlessly with predictable asymmetrical peaks in user accesses. Cloud computing denies any excuse not to right size technology to deliver the business in hand through smart bandwidth and processor optimisation, all done in a click or two, like a conductor leading the orchestra where the musicians do the heavy lifting of sound production.

Roll over

Letting it go is one of the hardest things to do in business; many years of emotional investment linked to career advancement and you have the hard baked ingredients to resist change. But if your careers have courted dogged change, adaptation and resilience, then you are probably already in the cloud and flying high, discovering a new set of problems to solve, or possibly the same problems to be solved in a new place. Some career technologists may critique the cloud as inferior to well-proven hosting solutions, once gleaming hardware, now burnished but still serviceable, locked down behind multiple firewalls, in a safe place with a safe pair of hands; a comfortable engine room. Yet more and more firms are realising the tangible benefits of the cloud especially those at the leading edge of technology, such as artificial intelligence, which will need wide scale processing, where the cloud is a smarter solution than a traditional onsite infrastructure, where federated capacity linked to increasingly large data stores can front run the power curve of digital data expansion.

Lamppost moments

Business continuity has been hard to achieve on a purely economic costs basis, the justification has been in the form of what if?, taking in both direct and indirect financial fallout of operational delivery failure. Industrial strength and most effective DR requires mirrored data centres with geographical separation on a continental basis, to dilute national security threat levels for example and other national dependencies such as power generation, distribution networks and communications infrastructure. Ideally, cloud service contracts should also be split between at least two suppliers and with unit rates being competitively near parity at the moment, this represent a further backstop to keep your business running. Cloud computing can provide viable solutions to mitigate localisation dependencies, so you just pay the money and play whatever DR tune you wish or can afford. Same continent cloud deployments get a latency benefit of peer to peer communication protocols, whereas cross-continent will increase latency between chosen cloud data centres, but these performances can be easily modelled and subsequently monitored, to allow informed decisions to be made.

Self-grooming

Cloud computing and its inherent connectivity can provide effortless data checks on the fly as part of pre-trade, pre-execution risk checks and post-trade processing and portfolio management workflows. It can be used to get into those tricky parts of the business operation and through APIs, the flagship of cloud computing, can optimise end to end performances and offer the opportunity for real change and improvement. New fintechs, without exception, use APIs to dynamically update their leading edge, best of breed, component plugin products and service propositions, where any latency criticism is all but nullified by dialling up the bandwidth.

Poop scoop

On a sensitive subject, any migration from even a managed hosting infrastructure to a cloud deployment, is a great opportunity for a clear out. Legacy hardware is a given of course, but relief also lies in re-engineering legacy processes and fragmented data stores to offer far more resilience in operational delivery. There's also less to hit the fan with reduced points of failure and so represents a compelling makeover for workflows that over time, become more reflective of a sprawling district general hospital than a shining example of the deployment and benefits of modern technology. New cloud platforms raise not only a firm's operating capability but provides the opportunity for new services in ways thought not possible before.

In the doghouse

No-one wants to be sin-binned by failing to comply with the industry's house rules. This is nowhere more pertinent than meeting mandatory trade management and reporting obligations of multiple and multi-jurisdictional financial regulations. Compliance support and regulation data augmentation opportunities abound from the API economy that cloud computing underpins, which can more readily harness the often fragmented data sources of subject matter experts. The correct interpretation of financial regulation, where individual asset classes have unique complexities, and its transformation into actionable and usable data, presents a considerable challenge for firms who trade or report on global markets and many products. A number of regulatory products and services have been created to solve this challenge and rely heavily on cloud deployment and automated access in real-time workflows or ad hoc searches by client service users and, with viable long term storage solutions for time series regulatory data, help is at hand when the regulator calls with an enforcement order a few years from now.

Old dog, new tricks?

Lumpy investment cycles, with upfront costs for underlying bare-metal hardware, have historically made it difficult to effectively match or optimise capacity due to the lead-time drag on operations for new deployments, which inevitably are out of sync with the business when they go live. In comparison, the benefits of cloud computing border on Utopia and for many, is turning dreams into reality. As for the old guard, the generational shift in the upcoming ranks of new employees, with paradigm-shifting dispositions, means some new tricks need to be learnt and in reality, cloud computing is a trove of opportunity to do just that.

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