Moving your Business to the Cloud
Everywhere you look these days you see the term Cloud. My goal in this article is to demystify the cloud a bit and to define some guidelines around how you can evaluate if a cloud solution is right for your business. To say the landscape of technology is changing would be an understatement but in the world of cloud computing its changing at an even faster pace. For now, it seems that we have landed at four main categories for cloud computing.
Four Main Areas of Cloud Computing:
- Private Cloud + Co-Location
- Private Cloud and Colo (Co-Location) refers to an on-premise solution. The key to this category is ownership. You own the hardware no matter if that hardware resides in the building you are working in or a datacenter. A type of computing that allows for similar advantages to public cloud (IaaS) including scalability, self-service. But also, allows full control over security and data sovereignty practices. This is accomplished because you own all the hardware from the Servers, Networking, etc. This also make you responsible for it all.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
- With this type of cloud computing you are generally sharing traditional server resources (Processing, Memory, Storage, Networking) with other companies and you are billed by the resources you consume. This type of cloud computing (also referred to as public cloud) is best used with temporary work loads. The service provider is responsible for maintaining the hardware and virtualization platform that the operating system is running on. As a customer, you have little knowledge or say in the underlying systems but would take control from the operating system on. Monitoring, updating, general maintenance of the virtual server would fall to the consumer of the cloud service.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- In a PaaS solution, the service provider presents you with access to the Application Programming Interface (API). This would be used by a software developer to write an application to take advantages of the PaaS offerings. In this scenario, there is no need to manage anything but the code and methods for accessing the application/data.
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Lastly we have SaaS, this Cloud solution is usually a per user pricing model. Although this is changing, you typically have no access to the “behind the scenes” for management and customization. Examples of SaaS clouds would be Salesforce.com, Office 365™, Dynamics Online, etc. This is arguably the future most talk about in relation to cloud and the end game for most software companies.
Each cloud solution will fall into one of these four areas. Some solutions include a mix of the different categories. When you span Private Cloud and any of the other three, this is considered a Hybrid Cloud. Most people in the industry consider a Hybrid Cloud as the solution for the foreseeable future. Companies should consider selecting strategic pieces of their environments to move as these cloud solutions mature.
Back to the basics
So, what is “Cloud Computing” anyways? The basics of computing hasn’t changed. Cloud doesn’t change anything in regards to computing. For us to run applications we still need access to processing, memory, networking and nonvolatile storage. These requirements don’t change whether the application runs on a smart phone, a car, smart fridge, TV, Servers in your office or in the cloud, etc. The basics aren’t changing. How you consume and purchase the processing, memory, networking and storage is what’s changing. There is no “Cloud“ it’s just someone else’s computer. It boils down to that and that alone. Someone still must buy a server, put software on it and present services. Whether they call it Hyper Converged, Hyper Scale, it still comes down to everything you do on a computer needs processing, memory, networking, and storage. From large cloud infrastructure to the tablet I’m writing this article on. Keep the basics in mind as we discuss the next sections.
My business should be in the cloud, right?
The answer isn’t that simple. There are many variables that come into play when assessing the validity of a cloud offering. I suggest starting with one question around cloud: Am I comfortable owning everything inside my network or am I open to off-loading some of workloads in your environment to a TRUSTED PARTNER? Trusted Partner being the key to it all. With the cloud momentum, the last few years there have been many new companies joining the pool of providers. Not all providers are created equal. It is imperative that you vet them thoroughly.
Ok, how do I know if I should move to the cloud?
I’m glad you asked my astute reader! First and foremost, you must have Strategic Goals (Sometimes called Business Objectives). Whatever you call them these typically come from the executive team providing direction of the company. Then you need to tie technology to those goals. Let’s assume we are set in the strategy department. Now we need to begin to understand what technologies (if any) we can use to accomplish the goals. At this point you might be thinking this is what we do all the time. Every year we plan for the coming year of technology changes, etc. this doesn’t sound any different. Again, points to you for playing along my friend, it’s not any different.
- Start with company-wide strategic goals
- Create a plan tying technology to business objectives
- Assess if cloud technologies are a fit using these examples of expectations of Cloud Services:
- Reduce on premise infrastructure
- Reduce IT management costs
- Increase availability without incurring hardware costs
- Accelerate Deployment
The cloud is not a panacea, it’s a tool. Sometimes the cloud is the right tool and other times the solution isn’t ready yet. If you are guessing at your IT Strategy and just hoping the cloud will solve your problems, there is a good chance that you’re not going to get your fairytale ending.
How do I know what a good cloud provider looks like?
Here we are! We have done our planning we have identified workloads to move to the cloud. Now what? Where do I start? How do we know what providers would be a good fit? Don’t worry old friend, we’ve got you covered. Below are some characteristics of a good cloud partner.
You own the data: Ask the provider about who owns the data. There should be some language in the contracts that you own the data and can get it back at any time.
You can roll back to your own infrastructure or another cloud provider: What is the exit strategy?
Monitored 24 x 7: Just like on premise systems you need to know that everything is working properly and if not you need to be alerted.
Useable performance: Ask for a trial. Make sure performance is ask expected.
Secure and encrypted: Remember, the cloud is just someone else’s computer and typically shared with other companies. Make sure your data is not only secure in the cloud but in transit also.
Backed up: This is one of the most assumed functions of a cloud provider. Never assume, make sure it’s being backed up and test it along with all your other systems.
Compatible with your environment: This is the second most over looked characteristic. Make sure that all other systems that need to can interface with the new cloud systems.
The key to a successful cloud solution is accomplished through diligent planning, research, and testing. Understanding that not all providers are created equal and using the characteristics to assess the solutions that may fit your needs. Also, recognizing that any of the cloud offerings described in the article are not a panacea but rather another tool in the tool box to meeting the strategic goals of the business. I hope that you have found this article useful and I thank you for your time.