5 steps to good Microsoft Azure Cloud Governance

The cloud offers some great benefits and advantages that are there for all to see. For organisations to truly reap the maximum benefit from their Microsoft Azure cloud investment, having the right governance framework and processes is absolutely crucial. Governance in Azure involves a variety of aspects right from the decision-making processes, criteria and policies involved in the planning, architecture, acquisition, deployment, operation and management of cloud computing.

To create a plan for Azure cloud governance, it is important to have a detailed understanding of the current people resources, processes and technology frameworks. The next step is to build the necessary frameworks that can empower IT teams to do what the business needs, while also allowing end-users the flexibility they need and demand to do their jobs well while benefiting from the features that Microsoft Azure offers.  

To get the best out of your Microsoft Azure cloud, consider the following governance parameters.

Define Roles Clearly and Control Access

It is important to define the account hierarchy for your cloud, based on business needs and data ownership. Defining this core governance structure with clearly articulated processes can help simplify governance greatly.

One great way to enable this is through the Azure Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) functionality that allows for some detailed access management for Azure. For instance, each user only gets the amount of access needed to perform their jobs.

The more fine-grained the access definitions, greater the security, as it eliminates the need to give unrestricted access to all users which thereby increase the number of potential attackers.

This also helps you assign responsibilities within the team and grant only the required access to each team member, with only a limited number of actions permitted for each user. To give an example, one person may be responsible for managing one particular aspect and another for a different aspect, then they each get permission for the same subscription, based on their roles. Users can either be assigned standard roles or well-defined custom roles.

Track and Manage Resources

Ability to track and manage all existing cloud resources is extremely important. One great way to track resources, especially since users are likely to add more resources to the subscription, is by parameters such as department, customer, and environment. Metadata can be attached to resources through tags that provide data about the resource or the owner. Using tags is a great way to not only aggregate and group resources in numerous ways, but the data can also be used for chargebacks.

Tags are especially useful when you are dealing with a complex variety of resource groups and resources. Tags allow you to visualize your assets in the most intuitive manner that works best for you. For instance, it could either be based on similar roles or departments or any other division that makes sense.

In the absence of these tags, managing multiple resources can often be challenging. Let’s say you need to delete resources associated with a particular project, finding each resource that corresponds to that particular project can be a veritable nightmare. In such a scenario, well defined tags can be a real lifesaver.

Because Azure allows users to create their own tag taxonomy, there is no danger of losing information to nonuniform defined tags. Putting together some standard organisation-wide rules for creating tags can help streamline the process.

Another great functionality in Azure is the Resource Manager, which brings several benefits. Not only does it allow you to manage, deploy and monitor services related to a solution as a group rather than individually; it also allows for access control to be applied to all resources in the group. The Resource Manager allows you to put resources into meaningful groups as per your convenience.

Cloud Security is Foremost

By far the biggest challenge for cloud adoption is concerns about security. Organisations are quite particular about wanting to retain control over their data. The data needs to be secure and private at all times.  Yet, it must be available on demand. Maintaining transparency and ensuring continuous compliance with organizational standards is of utmost importance.

Businesses are often concerned that moving to the cloud will likely leave them more susceptible to attacks by hackers, as compared to legacy on-premise solutions. While these security fears aren’t entirely misplaced, it is also true that the cloud can provide greater data security and administrative control, as compared to on-premise.

While the prospect of saving on infrastructure costs and improving scalability and flexibility is what generally attracts people to the cloud, there is a real concern about data privacy on the cloud. IT managers are worried about losing control over where their data is stored, who is accessing it, and how it gets used. Therefore, they are often wary of storing their precious data over a cloud.

Therefore, ensuring that you know where your data is saved and being able to independently verify its location are key. This transparency can go a long way in addressing security fears.

Given that Azure subscribers are likely to manage their cloud environments from various devices, it is important to have task-specific permissions. Administrative functions can sometimes be carried out through web-based consoles. Alternatively, it can also be through client endpoints such as tablets or smartphone; or through on-premises systems over VPN or client application protocols.

While having multiple access and management capabilities is great, it also adds to the risk significantly because managing, tracking, and auditing administrative actions can be extremely difficult. This makes it more vulnerable to security threats due to unregulated access to client endpoints used to manage cloud services and opens up to unknown threats from web browsing or phishing emails.

While it may be difficult to monitor or log or audit all actions due to the sheer volumes, it is highly recommended as a best practice.

Of course, none of this matters if the compliance piece is missing. As complexity and scope of cloud based solutions increases setting stringent compliance processes and ensuring that they are adhered to, is extremely crucial. Compliance standards also need to evolve as regulations change.

Tools such as the Azure Security Center, which provides a central view of the security status of resources in the subscriptions, are helpful. Azure Security Center also provides recommendations to prevent compromised resources and help enable more granular policies.  It is a great combination of best practice analysis and security policy management for all resources within an Azure subscription. It also analyzes resource security health based on the organisation’s policies and provides useful dashboards and alerts for suspicious events such as malware detection or malicious IP connection attempts.

Automate Automate Automate

Given the complexity of cloud operations, expecting governance to be performed by an already loaded IT team is unfair and often ineffective. Managing cloud governance manually is not a realistic expectation. Using automation is key for effective governance.

Cloud automation is a fundamental building block for the cloud computing paradigm. The aim of automation essentially is to make all cloud related activities as fast and efficient as possible, with little manual intervention. This is possible through the use of numerous software automation tools

The objective is to overcome the complexity that cloud computing orchestration brings with respect to deploying different resources in the cloud. With automation tools, requests around deployment and allocation of resources can be addressed quickly and efficiently without intervention from the administrator. The administration needs to simply choose the right options and the software takes over from that point.

It makes governance much simpler when IT is rid of repetitive and time-intensive tasks that can be automated. With an effective rules engine, automation can help curb extra spending and consumption, and also optimise the use of resources by shutting down workloads when they are not required.

Understand the road-map

One important aspect that governs cloud governance practices is a thorough understanding of what the objective of your cloud implementation is. Is your focus on improving IT efficiency? Or are you expecting your cloud to drive business innovation? If you have multiple goals, then you need to ensure that they’re not at odds with each other.

Equally important is an understanding of the overall business strategy and the direction in which the company is heading. All these factors impact your cloud governance strategies.

While there is no debate about the relevance of cloud computing, effective cloud governance is essential in order to reap maximum benefits. To know more about Microsoft Azure cloud and cost optimization you can read here.