Cloud in logistics IT: secure and flexible

Stefan Seufert, CTO/Vorstand EIKONA AG
Shining earth from above

Almost everyone who uses IT systems at work has an opinion about cloud computing. Fans and foes mainly debate whether companies should physically keep their data within their own four walls. But there is much more to cloud computing than where the data is stored. That's why it pays to take a closer look.


Anyone planning to buy a new IT solution will take a very hard look at the factors that matter the most for their decision. This includes soft factors such as user-friendliness as well as hard ones such as goals, application areas, costs and technical requirements. Key points to consider when evaluating a cloud solution include:

  • What tasks do I want a solution for?
  • What kind of availability expectations do I have?
  • How important is the security of the solution I intend to use?
  • What IT expertise does my company have?
  • How much time do I want to spend administering the solution myself?

If you consider these questions thoroughly, you will find something out of all the available options that suits your needs perfectly.


Needs-based

The cloud offers flexibility and security

When picking a new IT solution, you start with the project goals. These goals usually have something to do with cost, flexibility and security. Just a few years ago, security was considered a weakness of cloud solutions. Today, it is deemed a strength. Cloud and data centre operators are in the best position to implement state-of-the-art security solutions. Their systems are essentially always available, as evidenced by low annual downtimes. They are also protected from unwanted intrusions by the very best technical and organisational measures. Security is a key part of this business model. Achieving an equivalent level of security on both dimensions in on-premise systems poses a challenge that cannot be tackled at a similar cost.


Cutting edge

On cloud nine

If cloud solutions have one weak point, it is data sovereignty. Companies that outsource data no longer have physical access to it. This is now perfectly acceptable because European data protection legislation has forced cloud providers – even large international ones – to store data in Europe without granting third parties such as foreign states access to it. This is an important growth driver. After all, companies want their operations to be quick, nimble, scalable, cost-effective and preferably mobile. All things that present-day cloud solutions can provide effortlessly. For example, companies with multiple locations have relocated their entire server structures to a central data centre. Employees can collaborate across locations without the same difficulties they encountered in the past. They simply connect to the systems via HTTPS or VPN. When COVID hit, office workers at many companies were thus able to switch to working from home from one day to the next without much preparation. Financial analysts are also pleased about that companies are using cloud solutions instead of in-house systems. Cloud solutions are merely rented and so do not have to be depreciated over several years or replaced regularly.


The right model for everyone

Different types of cloud computing

Different approaches to capitalising on the benefits of off-premise central IT infrastructure have emerged since the early days of cloud computing. They are rental models, similar in some respects to trends seen in the real estate market:

  • Housing: the option of managing your own systems in an external data centre and only using the shared internet infrastructure (like a rental flat in a residential complex with a lift and janitorial service).
  • Hosting: the service provider operates and maintains the systems and also procures the hardware infrastructure (a furnished rental flat).
  • Software as a service (SaaS): individual applications provided without a system environment; the best-known example is Microsoft Office 365 (a hotel room).
  • Microservices/function as a service (FaaS): individual applications used selectively for a very specific task (a 10-day-a-month desk space in a co-working area
  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): a functional system environment (a convention hotel)
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): the system environment (IaaS) including middleware to connect services (a convention hotel with individual offices)

Focus on core business

Cloud solutions as no-hassle all-in-one packages

In all cloud scenarios other than pure housing, cloud service providers perform important tasks so that the company no longer has to do them itself: system provisioning, availability and security, updates and upgrades, licence management and database selection. They include complex requirements such as backups and recovery scenarios, emergency power supplies, redundant internet connectivity, fire protection, and protection from natural hazards through geo-redundancy (i.e., storing data in different locations). Customers rightly expect a fully functioning solution. Their only job is to establish a functioning internet connection from their workplace to the data centre. In addition to their normal internet service, they should have at least one backup option, such as mobile communications, in case of disruptions.

Conclusion

Freedom awaits in the cloud

If you carefully weigh your goals alongside the pros and cons of cloud solutions, you will be hard-pressed to find any alternatives to the data centre offerings that are not exorbitantly expensive. The IT sector has come to exemplify the shared economy since it is ideally positioned to enable users to share little-used resources. It also offers an almost unprecedented breadth of offerings, including solutions that you can literally start with the push of a button. Finally, middleware, application programming interfaces (APIs) and event sourcing platforms can be used to freely combine and link the various cloud scenarios. Organisations have never before been this free to mix and match IT systems.


Stefan Seufert
Stefan Seufert
CTO

As a design guru, the software developer delves into logistics service providers' requirements like no other. He is passionate about exchanging information securely and efficiently and thus speeding up the physical logistics process.


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