Following our feature article on cloud computing vs. on-premise IT in the January 2017 issue of Housing Technology, Virso’s enterprise business development manager, David Thomas, has contributed his views on the subject.
Move to the cloud vs stay on-premise?
You should be asking yourself, “what does our business need to meet its goals?”. The answer is likely to include cloud, but what type of cloud?
Traditional IT infrastructure uses servers, switches and storage to provide data processing and storage facilities. This style of infrastructure is used by most companies and many will continue to invest in more of the same. It is evolving though, with converged infrastructure (CI) or hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) systems; it’s the same stuff, just more efficient. HCI/CI are the technologies that most clouds are built on.
For starters, there’s more than one type of cloud and many different commercial models available. Most commercial models have options but you can’t tailor them to suit.
The general cloud model is an attractive one. Cloud has redefined how an IT department provides services back to its parent organisation and those it connects to and works with. The easy consumption of IT to enable rapid deployment of new applications, provide short-term development and testing, and turn on-use-turn off capability while providing a much-improved means for non-IT staff to access and utilise IT resources, has undoubtedly changed the IT landscape and user expectations.
Public cloud services, such as Amazon Web services and Micrsoft Azure, work on the basis of provisioning compute (processing power) and storage (somewhere to put your data) while enabling a high degree of elasticity (the ability to grow/shrink) to cater for business fluctuations due to peaks in demand or business changes.
Using a standardised platform and methodology to enable clients to migrate applications and data into their cloud environments and using a standardised (for each provider, not industry standard) sizing model to facilitate client systems and data, they offer a variety of services. This is comparable to the ‘T-shirt’ model. You chose which one is the right fit, contract for that and pay accordingly. If you know exactly what you want and are sure that it fits one of the standardised sizes, proceeding with that is relatively straightforward, and so long as there is very little fluctuation then costs are predictable. Custom cloud options tend to be far more expensive.
Charges vary significantly and recently there has been an indication of these providers ‘turning-the-screw’ somewhat to recover their investment costs. 2016 saw significant cost increases from Amazon Web Services (as high as 63 per cent), Microsoft Azure (20+ per cent) and others, depending on the contractual model and scale of commitment. High levels of unexpected costs are also reported by clients when migrating their data into and out of those public-cloud providers. Maybe that helps explain in part why Amazon Web Services’ revenues jumped by 69 per cent but profits by 300 per cent in 2016.
There’s a lot of evidence that companies that have ‘moved to the cloud’ have not done so universally and many tend to be repatriating data, applications and workloads into their on-premise estate as improved economics and the availability of a cloud-like experience for on-premise technology, plus the need for more controllable costs, control and security inform an evolving executive mindset.
Private or hybrid cloud
Private cloud technology has been developed by manufacturers to deliver cloud capabilities and experience on-premise. Most have multiple offerings, based on a generic cloud model of easy access and consumption, switch-on/off usage, scalability and elasticity, operationally efficient with an uptime of 99.9999 per cent. They offer connection to, and enable burst-out to, public cloud providers in times of extreme demand or to support disaster recovery, data migration or archiving.
They’re pre-designed to scale out of the box to suit any size of organisation and workload; to quote Dell EMC, “crate-to-cloud in under three hours”. Investment costs are comparable with existing infrastructure and some are supported by innovative financing that ensures you only pay for extra capacity or performance when you use it but operational costs can be much lower. Just like public cloud, but cheaper.
The major benefits are centred on a cloud-like capability and experience but one under your control that you can tailor to suit your specific business needs.
Which is right?
That depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you don’t understand what problem you’re trying to solve, then you almost certainly won’t find the right answer.
If you’re a new company, starting with the cloud makes perfect sense, allowing you to focus on your actual business. Everything from marketing to invoicing, recruitment to HR, and much more, is readily available with little or no outlay.
For established businesses, it’s more complicated. Only by knowing what your business needs can you make the right decision. Migrating to a cloud takes time, careful planning and considerable cost (such as parallel running). Once you’re there, you can potentially make savings but expect higher costs for a period of time.
As well as cost, security and compliance are key concerns when moving to the cloud.
While you can outsource your infrastructure, you cannot outsource your responsibility or duty of care to your employees, customers and others. Your cloud will only be safe if you operate good security practices, just as with on-premise systems; perhaps consider the Cyber Essentials program, designed by GCHQ to better protect British business and now being imposed on all government contractors (www.cyberaware.gov.uk/cyberessentials).
Compliance in the cloud is more complex and varies with business processes and customer types. It can determine what you can put in the cloud and with which cloud provider. For example, in our opinion, BT leads the way on GDPR compliance at the moment while everyone else is playing catch-up.
The point is simple. Cloud offers new opportunity and options, but it is not a panacea. Know what your business needs and wants, and plan from there. For the majority of companies, it’s likely that a hybrid model will emerge as the best option; some stuff in the cloud, some on-premise. But what, where and how depends on your business, your challenges, your aspirations and your priorities.
Take advice from suppliers that are not tied to one particular choice, conduct research among your peers, query everything and always get a second opinion. As the saying goes, “measure twice and cut once”.
David Thomas is the enterprise business development manager for Virso.