There is no getting away from it: the word “cloud” is a buzzword in the IT industry. Maybe it’s graduated onto something more.
I remember being asked this exact question during a technical presentation I got drafted into very last minute with a well-known, high street brand. During the infrastructure pitch, I had added a little flair at the end and sketched something resembling a cumulus cloud that elicited the question, “Why cloud?” Now at this point, I was unsure whether I was being tested or whether the customer genuinely didn’t know, and while I had a fairly good understanding of what it was, explaining it was something I’d never done before. Thankfully, a bolt of inspiration had me reciting the fact that, “Network diagrams have a cloud to represent the infrastructure outside of an organisation. This is due to the fact that you knew the hardware is there, but you couldn’t see it and have no control over it. That ‘cloud’ probably drew from the idea of fog of war.” Everyone in the room smiled and I felt very happy with my answer as I had avoided using as a service at any point, which, during this time about nine years ago, was all you ever heard when the word “cloud” came up in an IT conversation.
Today it’s assumed that if you’re talking to anyone in the IT industry that they comprehend the idea of cloud. We’ve defined something ethereal and tried to standardise it. Does one person’s idea of cloud equal that of another?
Yet my point made nearly ten years ago still stands – there is hardware and software outside of your control. You probably don’t even know what’s being used. You can’t see or touch it, but you rely on it for the success of your business.
The Truth about Cloud Costs
We have now reached a point where practically every IT product has the word “cloud” in their tagline or description, and if they don’t yet, their next release will. But how do you decide what or when it’s time to stick with on-premises or pivot and utilise cloud? We’ve all heard the horror stories of organisations spending their predicted yearly budget in one month to migrate to the cloud, or of providers going bust and huge swaths of data being lost, or even of access and encryption keys being stolen or published. Yet people are moving to the cloud in droves, unperturbed by these revelations. It’s reminiscent of when virtualisation first entered the data centre. We had VM sprawl, but this plague was controlled, limited by the fact you had a finite pool of resources. With cloud, the concept of limitless resource pools with near-instant access that you can consume with just a couple lines of code means things can get out of hand very quickly if you don’t stay in control.
We have also heard the “Hotel California” stories—those who have tried to leave the cloud for one reason or another and have been unsuccessful. Yet for all these horror stories, there are huge numbers of successes we do (like Uber or Airbnb) and don’t hear about. You only need to look at the earnings calls and reported profits the big players in the industry to see that cloud as part of an IT stack is here to stay.
So, while moving from a hefty CAPEX number on the balance sheet to perceived smaller recurring OPEX numbers may look attractive to some organisations, these quite often snowball and, like death by a thousand cuts, you can find tonnes of entries on your balance sheet consisting of cloud expenses. My personal bill can run to a couple of pages, so an enterprise organisation could run into the hundreds if not careful.
That’s because cloud service providers have succeeded in figuring out a cost model for everything. Some services incur an immediate charge upon use, while others have a threshold you have to trigger to be billed on its use.
You may have also heard the analogy, “The cloud is a great place to holiday, but not to live.” In terms of costs, I don’t think this is a great statement. It probably has its roots from those early adopters who felt they could lift and shift everything to the cloud without refactoring their workflows. But this isn’t true. The cloud is a great place for speed and scalability for workflows that need huge amounts of resources and are available in a very small window of time. Workflows that are possibly only used for a short period of time and then can be scaled back, or essentially rented, is an advantage of the cloud that piques a lot of people’s attention. The fact that you can get someone to provide you a service like email for instance, so you don’t need to rely on several sites running multiple servers managed by a team of specialised individuals, is another attractive characteristic that has people interested in the cloud.
Hybrid Cloud Benefits
So, what is a proper hybrid cloud model? Well what may be right for one is different for another, but the overarching idea is to have your workload reside on the right infrastructure at the right time during its lifespan. Careful planning and leveraging multiple levels of security during your deployment and management is key. Having a 21st century outlook on IT is how I like to think of it. Understanding that certain applications or data requires you to have it close at hand or secured in a data centre you own; while others can live on someone else’s tin as long as you have access to it. Not to get tied up thinking that its current location, hardware, and software is permanent is a great stance to tackling today’s IT challenges. Knowing that it’s not something you can buy off the shelf, but have to craft and sculpt are traits you want in your IT department as these hybrid IT years progress.
In the U.K., we have several websites who, as a service, can transfer you between energy, broadband, banking, mortgage, credit card, etc., providers to one that is cheaper or has the services you require. I can see in the near future that we could very well have IT companies whose business model is to make sure you are leveraging the right cloud for your workload. Maybe I should go now and copyright that…