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Replacing Your Data Center With The Cloud

Level 8

Did the title of this blog entry scare you and make you think, "Why in the world would I do that?"  If so, then there is no need to read further.  The point of this blog post is not to tell you why you should be doing so, only why some have chosen to do so, and what issues they find themselves dealing with after having done so. If you still think that the idea of moving any of your data center to the cloud is simply ludicrous, you may go back to your regularly scheduled programming.

If the demand for on your company's IT resources is consistent throughout the week and year, then the biggest reason for moving to the cloud really doesn't apply to you.  Consider how Amazon Web Services (AWS) got built. They discovered that most of the demand on their company's IT resources came from a few days of the year: Black Friday, Mother's Day, Christmas, etc. The rest of the year, the bulk of their IT resources were going unused. They asked themselves whether there might be other people who had the need for their IT resources when they weren't using them, and AWS was born. It has, of course, grown well beyond the simple desire to sell excess capacity into one of their most profitable business lines.


If your company's IT systems have a demand curve like that, then the public cloud might be for you. Why pay for servers to sit there for an entire year when you can rent them when demand is high and give them back when demand is low?  In fact, some companies even rent extra computing capacity by the hour when the demand is high. Imagine being able to scale the capabilities of your data center within minutes in order to meet the increased demand created by a Slashdot article or a viral video. This is the reason to go to the cloud. Then, once the demand goes down, simply give that capacity back.

The challenge for IT people looking to replace portions of their data center with the public cloud is automating it, and making sure that what they automate fits within the budget.  While a public cloud vendor can typically scale to whatever demand level you find yourself with, the bill will automatically scale as well. Unless the huge spike in demand is directly related to a huge spike in sales, your CFO might not take kindly to an enormous bill when your video goes viral. Make sure you plan for that ahead of time so you don't end up having to pay a huge and unexpected cost. Perhaps the decision will be made to just let things get slow for a while. After all, that ends up in the news, too. And if you believe all publicity is good publicity, then maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

There are plenty of companies that have replaced all their data centers with the cloud. Netflix is perhaps the most famous company that runs their entire infrastructure in AWS.  But they argue that the constant changes in demand for their videos make them a perfect match for such a setup. Make sure the way your customers use your services is consistent with the way the public cloud works, and make sure that your CFO is ready for the bill if and when it happens. That's how to move things into the cloud.

8 Comments

Yes, I see this is the direction many things are going.  Either we build our own cloud, or farm out to someone else's.

However, remember the advice:  "Trust, but verify."

  • What surety do you have that your services will remain up and available 7x24?
  • What penalties is your company willing to accept for your customers' loss of access to your services if the ASP/Cloud Provider fails for any reason?  I'm not talking strictly legal penalties here, but more along the lines of the financial impact to your organization if people can't use the services you used to host internally.  How much business and money will you lose if/when the ASP lets you down?
  • How will you verify the security of your data once it's inside the Cloud Provider's world?
  • What services will that ASP allow you to monitor?
  • What monitoring can you do of the ASP's hardware environment and applications?

I won't trust an ASP with my data unless I can verify its safety and performance.  Whether its Patient Health Information, Financial information, legal documentation--why would anyone trust an ASP they can't verify?

Finally, suppose you've verified the ASP to the satisfaction of your Security and Legal teams.  What will that ASP do for you if/when their service is degraded or offline?  What penalties will they pay you if the data is lost or stolen--or just very, very slow to access?

I'm not saying don't move to the cloud--some companies are too small to do everything in-house, and to compete they are forced to leverage the skills and hardware of others.

But don't assume "The Cloud" is magical and nebulous and unknowable simply because someone gave it that sort of name.  It's just a group of Application Service Providers--business folks in the IT field selling you services.  Hold their feet to the fire and ensure you have the metrics that prove your customers will be well served and your data will be secure.

If not, keep shopping, or start building a team to host your services yourself internally.

MVP
MVP

rschroeder​ speaks the truth here.  Having worked at an outsourcer before, SLA's can be a killer.  Granted these days with the way virtual servers can be spun up to handle the load, there "should" not be as much of an issue outside of a major infrastructure outage.  In the end though, is it right for your business ?

Level 13

O know "The Cloud"  it's like the great wizard pulling your strings.  It's not for everyone.  Beware! Tread softly!

Level 14

Well, for my classified environment, there is no cloud to move to.  We will continue with our data center.

Level 20

It's also debatable whether Netflix is really paying their fair share for bandwidth... considering around 5pm EST time often 70% of the backbone bandwidth being used is netflix traffic.  So in addition to making use of AWS netflix may also be abusing the internet to everyone elses peril... now with FCC overreach and so called "net neutrality" it's really putting broadband providers into a bind.

Personally, I am  all in favor of moving to the Cloud. I want my department tog et out of the datacenter business. It isn't worth the headaches anymore. The same applies to hardware. I long for the day when my applications rise above the hardware and administration becomes (somewhat) seamless. The previous leadership at my current company viewed infrastructure as a continual roadblock. I constantly fought them on this mindset, but deep down inside I had to agree with them.

MVP
MVP

Interesting read. I've never looked at the cloud in that fashion before. For my work, the reason for the cloud was simple - to save money. By outsourcing our servers, we can reduce staff numbers. Less staff means more money. But sometimes it seems they've jumped in too quickly as now they don't get the same response time as when they had local staff.

But I guess it's the way of the future. I just hope the network here doesn't get outsourced.

Level 10

I think that cloud technology is the result of evolution pulled out from visualization; If you think about it, Cloud is just a massive clusters of virtualized servers in very high end data centers being offered as a service. It has it's advantages but also has disadvantages; After all the cloud is for every company but not every company is for the cloud.