I had a laugh recently while having a discussion with an Uber driver. “Are you in town for the Amazon thing”, she asked. “Yes, actually I am” I replied. She shook her head and said, “Lots of people in town for that, what’s it all about?”. Not knowing if she really wanted to know, or was just making small talk, I briefly described that it was the Amazon Web Services convention.
“What is a web service?” She asked. I explained to her that it was Amazon’s Cloud service, and many vendors were gathering to showcase their products and for attendees to learn more about AWS and other products. She shrugged and said that the only cloud(s) she knows about are in the sky. The best way I could think of to explain it as she clearly didn’t know much about IT was to simply say that “Cloud” is computing systems that are available to the public and businesses for purchase. This brief conversation led me to ponder; this uber driver isn’t the exception to the rule. Many of us truly don’t know what Cloud Computing is. So, let’s talk about it and see what we know, and discover some things that we didn’t think of.
Context is Everything
I recall the first time I heard the term Cloud in an IT context. Now, I’ve been in IT for a few decades as a Windows and VMware Systems Administrator, Engineer and Tech Manager and I didn’t have a clue what this meant. After some questions and research, I concluded that it was nothing more than a new term for what I’ve been doing all along. I was right and I was wrong. It took some time for people to coin the phrases private, public, on-prem, hybrid etc. when explaining the different types of Cloud computing. At least time to filter out and become standard vocabulary within IT circles. That’s when things began to make a little more sense. At least to me. I had been providing private cloud services to clients for several years. Just never knew to call it that.
Fast forward to current day and the vast services and providers of cloud computing are staggering. It seems like everyone is clamoring to decide what to do while many vendors develop products to support it. What should they subscribe to? Which provider? What should they migrate? What should they keep on prem? Does hybrid make sense? Are all questions people are asking themselves. I realize that many have already made decisions based on the factors, but I also know many have not. This article is not to offer suggestions for solutioning but rather to discuss the things to consider when planning to utilize a cloud service.
In my experience there are several variables to consider when entertaining the idea to use cloud services.
The first thing many believe is that cloud will save them money compared to private hosting. But this isn’t always the case. There are some on-prem service providers that are reasonable. This normally pertains to larger IT shops that can benefit from volume discounting and so on. At a high level it also depends on the platforms you’re running, applications, data classifications, storage, network, licensing, support and refresh costs of each. Then there are the real estate costs, flooring, power, cooling, racks, UPS systems and other hardware. And we can’t forget the people costs. There are too many factors that make up private hosting costs to go into here. Each business will have to evaluate their current costs and perform a comparison.
Hurdles in Verticals
Let’s consider government agencies, FDA operations, healthcare, insurance and certain banking industries. Most of these verticals have strict regulations and compliance standards. They have steep hurdles to overcome to comply in a cloud environment. Cloud services are certainly getting more robust and secure but maybe it makes sense for keeping some of these systems on premise. This just makes sense to a certain degree. There are risks with regards to sensitive/restricted data no matter where your systems are hosted. To that I think we can all agree. But physical security of the assets is another element that must be considered.
In reading this blog you may be concluding that I am opposed to cloud. Quite the contrary. It is an excellent option to satisfy most of our computing and hosting needs. I just think that careful planning and education needs to take place. It’s important to understand what it is, how it's secured, how it's maintained, and lastly, what is and is not provided before a decision is made. There are many people who are considering it without knowing much about it. When you host your own environment, you are employing specialists to manage, design and protect it while keeping your best interests as priority. Are you getting that with cloud?
I think the natural progression is a hybrid environment. I know many companies are operating in this model now. Where they are maintaining certain systems on premises and certain systems on cloud. This mix makes the most sense to me where you can move non-critical or low utilization systems to cloud and maintain others at “home”. I recently had a colleague give me a strange look when I told him that I doubted most companies would ever be 100% cloud based. Which is one point, as well as the discussion with the Uber driver that prompted me to write this.
So, the best thing to do is as much research and learning as you can, self-evaluate your business’s IT footprint and make some informed decisions. Every day there are new products and startup companies that are focusing on supporting your cloud environments to better manage, secure and migrate your on-prem systems to.