Moving workloads to the cloud is both a technical and business decision, and the transition needs to be a well-aligned blend of the two in order to achieve success. In many ways, cloud consumption is comparable to renting a condo in a foreign land—all the while being exposed to a foreign language.
Renting a virtual condo in the cloud for your applications and data entails much more than paying per-minute charges for actual usage. Many organizations have dipped their toes into the cloud by means of SaaS applications such as Office 365 and found it to be palatable. However, transitioning traditional or virtualization infrastructures and workloads to the cloud is quite different, and expecting to save money is likely unrealistic.
First SaaS, then cloud
As an example, everybody’s moving to Office 365. The cost/benefit analysis is reasonable when compared with the hard and soft dollar costs, i.e. maintaining numerous Exchange and related servers internally, in addition to the people, licensing, and other costs. In addition, the work effort associated with redundancy, upgrades, hardware, backups, enhancements, and other aspects are no longer necessary as these are embedded into the cloud-based service. The market has overwhelmingly shown that Office 365 is a definite win from both a technical and business perspective.
Once an organization has its first “rented” cloud service, consideration for other workloads follows. Is moving to the cloud easy or cheap? No. Is it worth it? Quite possibly, but not one size fits all.
Why move to the cloud?
Cloud is cool and in vogue, but that doesn’t necessarily address business or technical challenges. The definition of cloud can vary, so for purposes of this discussion, reference is to a public cloud such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud Platform.
From a business perspective, one of the most enticing reasons to move to cloud is Operating Expense (OpEx) vs. Capital Expense (CapEx). There are no servers, networking equipment, or other hardware to purchase that ages quickly from a technological perspective; instead, the landlord, errrr, Cloud Provider, maintains and enhances all aspects of the hardware and core software technology. With no physical hardware for an enterprise to support, there’s no need to maintain a data center, which includes everything from a badging system to fire inspections, or straight costs for a co-location facility. Instead, there’s just a monthly bill for compute services rendered.
It’s not easy or cheap…
While there are estimator tools to approximate cloud costs, such as the Microsoft Azure Pricing Calculator or the Citrix XenApp/XenDesktop on Azure Cost Calculator, it is important to correctly designate the necessary compute resources. In many cases, requirements are underestimated and then an unpleasant surprise hits after a transition is completed.
Just like when you rent a condo, the cost is typically higher than what you would pay for ownership. The owner has to recoup costs plus make some profit. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and other cloud providers are in it for the money too. And whether the cloud provider or a consultant helps you “move” to your new virtual condo, there are significant costs associated with that transition.
Much like living within the confines of a building owned by someone else, it may not be possible to host workloads in the same way as your own environment. While it is likely that the cloud offers new and better options for security, monitoring, and analytics, there may also be some unexpected limitations based on the inherent multi-tenancy associated with cloud. Further, some level of control is relinquished when renting a virtual cloud condo.
Many CIOs view cloud as a way to minimize IT staff. From the standpoint of “rack ‘em and stack ‘em” personnel,” yes, that’s true, but cloud technologies are necessitating Cloud Architect titles that closely subscribe to the ever-changing capabilities. When a provider releases a new monitoring, security, or other capability, the Cloud Architect is responsible for staying abreast of the technical change and determining if and how it impacts the current and planned workloads. This comes at a cost.
Lastly, databases are not cheap in the cloud. Databases are essential for every organization, and the costs associated with the realistic size and configuration can provide an unwelcomed surprise.
Of course, there are some ways to curtail costs. For example, is it necessary for all servers to run for 168 hours each week, or can some resources be powered down during non-essential hours?
Wrap-up: Stay on premises or move to the cloud?
There are more and more compelling reasons to move the cloud, but it’s not nirvana. Technology, pricing, and offerings are improving as cloud becomes more competitive and mainstream. However, there are numerous business and technical considerations that must be factored in and understood as part of the decision to move to the cloud. Cloud is a foreign land to many, and renting a virtual condo where you don’t fully understand the language has many challenges.