From the basement to the cloud and everywhere – data powers our everyday lives

The programme of Finland’s new government includes many mentions of promoting digitalisation and information and knowledge management. Data protection legislation will be reformed to promote the appropriate use of cloud services and the organisation of public services.

The government also aims to facilitate the transfer of data between information systems operated by public bodies and the use of data resources. Digitalisation and information and knowledge management in the social welfare and healthcare sector is an entirely separate chapter.

From the ICT sector’s perspective, the targets are welcome, and their benefits are obvious. Digitalisation has led to explosive growth in the volume of data created and used in all production activities and services. The data is used in real time in customer processes, so it must be immediately available. Cloud computing services are an essential platform for a data-driven society.

Fast connections ensure effective data use

Traditionally, data was banished to the basements of companies or organisations residing on the same server as all the necessary applications. The IT department acquired additional computing power as applications and data ballooned in size.

This model has its advantages: Data was close to the people who needed it in the organisation and was not dependent on telecommunications connections. On the other hand, every organisation had to look after information security and backups in-house. In the worst case, a lack of expertise or responsibility could have dramatic repercussions.

The benefits of using an outsourced data centre were largely the same. The service scales more easily, and information security is more centralised.

However, when data is centrally stored and managed, it can no longer meet all the usage needs.

The cloud responds to the needs of many data-based operations. Data on standardised cloud platforms is available everywhere and on all devices. The management, maintenance and backup of shared platforms are handled jointly for all customer companies. The same cloud capacity can be exploited dynamically for all users. For example, if one service is used less overnight, capacity is freed up for less urgent processes run by other users without every customer needing to buy additional servers to ensure they have enough processing capacity.

Cloud computing frees applications, data and computing power from the constraints of a single server and fixed connections, as data can be transferred for use in different locations. Better telecommunications connections play a key role in realising effective cloud computing services. In particular, the rapid expansion of 5G networks has accelerated data-based businesses.

Private 5G networks built for companies enable data to be brought close to the customer securely. The required application runs on a cloud platform close to the production process. The data generated in production is transferred securely and immediately to where it is needed. The service can also be implemented at the edge of a mobile network, so it serves the customer anywhere in the world where there is 5G coverage.

Networks are also going into the cloud

From the operator’s standpoint, this development will turn the entire mobile network into a data-processing infrastructure, instead of merely a data-transferring one, as more and more computing power is built at the edge of the network. In the future, the core of the network will be decentralised around the network. In other words, we will use cloud architecture ourselves to provide our customers with a better, more efficient service.

Information security and data privacy protection are critical in the cloud world. A commendable amount of attention has been paid to regulation in the EU and at the national level. However, the need for strict national autonomy was cast in a new light by Russia’s war of aggression and, for example, Ukraine’s solutions: Perhaps nationally critical data should not be kept within one nation’s borders. Cloud services also offer a solution to this challenge.

Cloud computing platforms are now developing at a tremendous pace as the global giants compete. A market the size of Finland cannot influence the direction of development, but mobile operators play a crucial role in securely bringing services close enough to customers. We should try to remain in pole position in terms of the application and utilisation of cloud services. This will enable us to increase our expertise, improve the competitiveness of Finnish companies, build our society, and make even better services.

Jari Collin, CTO, Head of Infrastructure at Telia Finland