We’re now entering the era of “utility computing”, where computing capability can be purchased when and as needed, much like electricity or water or other public utilities.
This is facilitated by cloud providers offering computing platforms that are very compelling for many organizations. As noted in an earlier blog post, Microsoft’s “cloud-first” development cycle was a common theme at their 2015 World Partner Conference. Their intention is to roll out new features and functionality on their cloud-based products first so it’s important that Microsoft Gold Partners like ourselves focus on these solutions and assess how we can continue to drive greater value for our shared customers.
Cloud-based computing can be a very attractive way to provide IT services, instead of owning and operating all the equipment. However, before making a wholesale move to the cloud, a number of factors should be considered to help determine if and how cloud computing should be used to accomplish your goals. Over the course of multiple cloud migrations, Virteva has found that customers really need to consider the following:
Financial factors: An organization’s financial approach can direct them towards or away from cloud computing. Some organizations still favor an approach heavy on cap-ex, to make up-front capital-expense purchases of infrastructure and amortize those costs over several years. For other organizations, operational expenses (op-ex) fit better financially, where costs occur monthly, and can vary to suit the organization’s changing needs, without large up-front expenditures. Whichever model fits best, be sure that comparisons of costs for cloud vs. on-premises computing are truly “apples to apples”. It’s easy to forget a lot of the very real costs for on-premises computing such as facilities and maintenance.
Communications capabilities: The unfortunate fact is that our world is still not uniformly connected with high-speed and reliable communications pipes. Some places simply don’t have the ability to reliably and effectively communicate with cloud-based services. And solid data communications are an absolute requirement for moving IT functions off your premises. In fact, data communications channels generally should be redundant, because an interruption in your connection would then be just as serious as an on-premises data center outage. You must ensure that you have a reliable connection to your IT services.
Workload variability: Cloud computing positively shines when flexibility is key, when rapid expansion of computing capabilities can be achieved at the push of a button, when you’re paying by the hour but don’t need to be live 24 hours/day, or when services can be beefed up for spikes in demand, then reduced again without continued costs. However, if you know you’re going to be running the exact same application with the exact same computing requirements for the next “N” years, cloud computing won’t be as attractive for its elasticity (but still may make sense for other reasons). Also, many people aren’t aware of the significant savings available from cloud providers by making longer-term commitments for constant-usage needs.
System availability: People are sometimes surprised when cloud providers require down time on customers’ systems. The reality is that maintenance is sometimes required with on-premises computing as well. The difference is in scheduling: when you own all the components on-premises, you can very tightly control maintenance time windows. There’s also the fact that some customers just don’t schedule it, and don’t do any patching or upgrading whatsoever. But not doing maintenance is not an option for cloud providers, and they simply can’t provide the same precision in timing when servicing thousands of customers on thousands of systems. Customer systems that truly require high availability and near-zero downtime should already have architectures that allow for maintenance of individual elements. When all is said and done, overall systems uptime in the cloud should be as good or better than with on-premises computing. But changes may be required from “the way we’ve always done it”.
Security: While many people are still apprehensive about letting someone else hold their data, the fact is that cloud providers can enable security that’s usually much better than anything that we mere mortals can build. The cloud providers simply have far more resources, and have even more incentive to keep our data secure, with all the regulatory compliance required for their disparate customers. The advent of cloud computing has brought some really excellent security measures for handling our data, which most of us may not typically have applied for on-premises business-as-usual. Simply put, good security is very achievable in the cloud, but does require some up front attention and effort from us.
In summary, cloud computing is extremely attractive for many organizations, but shouldn’t be undertaken without due planning and consideration. A cloud data center is not just another business-as-usual data center on your network. It really is a somewhat different world, and does require that some things be done a little differently. And of course, Virteva stands ready to help customers navigate those differences.