In a previous post, we tackled the pros and cons of virtualization, and wondered when it was good To V, or not to V.
In this post, we’re going to pull back from on-site infrastructure and focus on the cloud.
Cloud computing is as close to a true game-changer as the IT world has seen in a very long time. It has transformed many aspects of IT, including up-front infrastructure costs, required in-house skills, and the distance between idea and execution. Many younger technologists believe the cloud is the only solution, as evidenced in a satirical but very true-to-life scene in HBO’s Silicon Valley, in which one character proposed purchasing in-house servers, and another character being incredulous, because, to him, a “server” is just a commodity you can spin up or spin down in the cloud at will. The cloud has had, and will continue to have, an immeasurably positive impact on how technology is delivered and how IT is managed.
There is no denying that the cloud is a powerful tool in the IT leader’s arsenal.
In short, to C, or not to C? That is this week’s question.
Quick Aside: What is “Cloud”?
Since the cloud has become a buzzword in today’s IT, it’s important to take a step back and explain what we mean when we use the term “cloud.” The ubiquity of the cloud has led every vendor to slap the word “cloud” onto all products, presenting confusion. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the body that seeks to produce a definitive definition of cloud, produces a clunky definition that clocks in at 800 words, with the admission that the definition is constantly evolving.
We don’t want to get bogged down in that debate here. Instead, when we refer to the cloud in this article, we’re talking about a remotely-delivered, multi-tenant service that offers on-demand scalability and load balancing and eliminates the need for on-site infrastructure.
The cloud provides a wealth of possibilities for organizations willing to embrace it. There are several key reasons to move your application or service to the cloud, including:
- You have a full handle on your environment. A cloud migration is a complex undertaking. The more you understand about your current environment, the more likely you are to know which applications will work in the cloud and which will not.
- Your application/service uses a variable amount of computing power. It’s an open secret that Amazon Web Services was first born as a way to utilize Amazon’s excess holiday shopping capacity for the rest of the year. You can use the same test with your own infrastructure! Systems with variable computing demand are a perfect case for the cloud, because you don’t have to worry about dynamically scaling up and scaling down. This is why the cloud is the perfect solution for solutions such as testing and Disaster Recovery.
- Your organization requires mobile work. Working on the go has never been easier, or more required, for modern workers. The cloud provides an easier way to access your organization’s services from any web-capable device, as long as the user has the proper passwords.
- You don’t want to lose your data. Cloud providers will back up your data to the nth degree and do anything necessary to avoid losing their data, for one simple reason: they have to. If a customer loses all its data, that cloud provider is finished. Therefore, if you want to confirm your data is fully backed up to your needs, the cloud could be the perfect solution.
- You want seamless infrastructure management. When your service is hosted in the cloud, upgrades and maintenance can happen seamlessly for your organization. All you need is an alert from the provider, and you never have to worry about missing an upgrade, hotfix, or anything. This provides added confidence in your service being up-to-date, and it eliminates the risk of having to spend time and money to upgrade on-premises infrastructure to the latest supported version.
- Your service has robust security and compliance requirements the cloud can address. In the early days of the cloud, the alarmists all came out to say that the cloud was one giant security risk, and organizations with security requirements would never embrace the cloud. That prediction has proven dead wrong. If you operate in a heavily regulated industry with heightened security requirements, moving to a specialized cloud provider could be your perfect solution. It’s still incumbent on you, the user, to identify those compliance requirements, but finding compliant cloud providers can remove guesswork and allow you to concentrate on a successful migration. Turbonomic can help here, by taking your compliance rules and making resource decisions that abide by those requirements.
Not To C
There is no denying that the cloud is an amazing tool for today’s IT department, but that doesn’t mean that the cloud is the right solution to every IT problem. There are certain scenarios in which the cloud is not the right move for an organization, such as:
- Your Application or Service Isn’t Cloud Ready. The cloud is not a cure-all for all that ails your infrastructure. As I always love to say, if your app is terrible on-prem, and you move it to the cloud, you’ll be paying by the hour to keep it terrible. Some legacy infrastructure might not be built to support portability and virtualization, and, as we mentioned in our To V or Not to V post, may be written for specific physical modules that don’t translate to a virtual or cloud environment. It is vital to make sure you understand the full picture of your application or service, because its architecture might not allow it to move to the cloud or run well once it’s there.
- You don’t have robust SLAs and service management in place. If you don’t understand the level of service your organization needs to meet its business goals, migrating to the cloud can be dicey. Without this foundation, you run the risk of paying too much for service you don’t have, or of being in the middle of a major outage that’s affecting business with a provider that is not obligated to address your issue for another 24 hours. Either way, you need to understand what service you need before you can ask a cloud vendor to provide it.
- You aren’t willing to invest in complementary infrastructure. Moving to the cloud can save an amazing amount of money in server and data center costs, but it will likely present additional requirements for other aspects, such as network services, since services that were accessible over local networks may have to traverse the WAN. If you haven’t done the work to understand whether your other infrastructure can handle a heavily cloud-based environment, you aren’t ready to start a cloud migration.
- You don’t want to dynamically manage your cloud. True “pay as you go” cloud computing doesn’t fully exist. You’re going to pay for the cycles you allocate, not just for what you actually use. As a result, some organizations who do little but throw their infrastructure into the cloud and leave it there have seen higher costs than they anticipate. If you don’t dynamically manage your cloud usage and allocations, your dream of lower costs could turn into a cloud nightmare.
- Cloud providers do not meet your unique security requirements. Certain industries have security requirements that many cloud providers cannot meet. For example, the federal government in the United States was projected to spend approximately 15 times as much on private cloud ($1.7 billion) as public cloud ($118 million) in 2014 because many cloud providers did not meet the federal security standards for the cloud, known as FedRAMP (Amazon Web Services was the first organization to pass FedRAMP in May 2013). If a cloud provider cannot meet your unique security requirements, the cloud is not the right idea, though it is likely more of a “not yet” than a firm “no.”
Like anything else in an IT manager’s arsenal, the cloud is a tool. It isn’t inherently good or bad, and its success or failure depends wholly on the person wielding it. The cloud is an incredibly powerful tool that can realize incredible benefits for an IT department, but it should not be considered an automatic answer to all IT issues.
If you understand your organization, your needs, and the nature of your services, you will be able to make the right decisions, unlock the true potential of the cloud, and avoid costly boondoggles that never should have moved to the cloud in the first place.