Before cloud was a thing, I looked after servers that I could physically touch. In some cities, those servers were in the buildings owned by the organization I worked for. My nation’s capital was also the IT capital at the time, and my first IT role was on the same floor as our server room and mainframe (yes, showing my age but that’s banking for you). In other cities, we rented space in someone else’s data center, complete with impressive physical access security. I have fond memories of overnight change windows as we replaced disks or upgraded operating systems. Now that I'm in the SMB world, I often miss false floors, flickering LEDs, the white noise of servers, and the constant chill of air conditioning.
I saw the mainframe slowly disappear and both server consolidation and virtualization shrunk our server hardware footprint. All of that was pre-cloud.
Now the vendors have pivoted, with a massive shift in their revenue streams to everything “as a Service.” And boy, are they letting us know. Adobe is a really interesting case study on that shift, stating that their move away from expensive, perpetually licensed box software has reinvigorated the company and assured their survival. They could have quite easily gone the way of Kodak. The vendors are laughing all the way to the bank, as their licensing peaks are flattened out into glorious, monthly recurring revenue. They couldn’t be happier.
But where does it leave us, the customer?
I want to put aside the technical aspects of the cloud (we’ll get to those in the next article) and explore other aspects of being a cloud customer. For starters, that’s a big financial shift for us. We now need less capital expenditure and more operational expenditure, which in my town means more tax deductions. Even that has pros and cons, though. Are you better off investing in IT infrastructure during the good times, not having to keep paying for it in the lean months? (This is a polarizing point of view on purpose. I'm digging for comments, so please chime in below.)
What about vendor lock-in? Are we comfortable with the idea that we could take our virtual servers and associated management tools from AWS and move them to Microsoft Azure, or does our reliance on a vendor’s cloud kill other options in the future? It feels a little like renegotiating that Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. Say "no" and rip out all of our Microsoft software? Does the cloud change that, or not?
In some areas, do we even have a choice? We can’t buy a Slack or Microsoft Teams collaboration package outright and install it on an on-premises server. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but maybe you’ve found an open source alternative?
So, with the technical details aside, what are our hang-ups with a cloud consumption model? Would the vendors even listen, or do they have an answer for every objection? Tell me why the cloud makes no sense or why we should all agree that it's okay that this model has become so normal.
Viva la cloud!