Are you sure the cloud is what your business needs?

The cloud isn’t a silver bullet – so it’s crucial to take stock of all the options available to your business.

Article by Architechs: May 2020
We humans have a dangerous trick when faced with a complex topic. A desire for expediency and simplicity can lead us to discard nuance, make assumptions and act hastily – and in business, this is how expensive mistakes are made.

In our sector, a common example of this oversimplification is for businesses to assume they need to be running in the cloud (where ‘the cloud’ is shorthand for one of the big, publicly-accessible cloud service providers like AWS, Azure and so on).

Everyone else is doing it, so it must be the best way to ‘go digital’ – and set up your business in such a way as to facilitate innovation. Right? Well, not necessarily.

At Architechs, we’re agnostic when it comes to technology and approach. Every situation is different and sometimes the public cloud is the best option; we’re happy to recommend it when this is the case.

However – our purpose is to help our clients achieve their goals while maximising the value of the money they spend. And in our view, automatically choosing the public cloud over other options is not without risk, and can be needlessly expensive.

Are you sure the cloud is what your business needs?

Public vs Private

As with any technology, the public cloud is a tool with its own particular strengths and drawbacks. So to ensure you’re following the strategy that best suits your business, you should consider the alternative option – which is to run your operations via your own private cloud or datacenter. This allows you to have everything set up for your specific needs, and provides you with complete control to change things as and when necessary.

However, the private cloud option is often overlooked because of all the hype (and marketing) surrounding the public cloud. This is a problem – whichever path you go down you need to know what you’re getting into, and the associated strengths and weaknesses.

So to help redress the balance, let’s look at some of the popular received wisdom surrounding the public cloud – and demonstrate why they’re actually misconceptions.

Myth 1 –“The cloud will save us money”

Are you sure the cloud is what your business needs?Going to one of the big providers means your business gets to benefit from economies of scale and infrastructure that only the biggest names in technology can muster. As a result, it’s often seen as a cost saving move.

But is this true? Well, not really. Firstly, the payment model means that you pay for the processing resource that you use, by the minute or second. Generally speaking, this unit cost actually works out higher for the public cloud than when running your own private instance.

There are ways to mitigate the cost. One is to run vendor-specific products within the cloud, but this comes with its own risks; it can lead to problems with lock-in, and commit you to a platform where the longer-term costs are out of your control.

Another way to lower your costs is to pay in advance. For example, pre-pay for three years of service and you’ll benefit from lower rates. However, that constitutes a very big hit on operational expenditure for many companies; money that could be better invested elsewhere. It also locks you into the platform for a longer period of time; in today’s world, three years can be an eternity.

All this doesn’t factor in the time and cost associated with skilling up your people to administer your business’ cloud operations. This should never be an afterthought; it can easily eat up any cost-savings you might be expecting to realise.

Myth 2 – “The cloud will help us innovate”

Are you sure the cloud is what your business needs?We should recognise that the great rush to the cloud is partly because it can unlock so many meaningful benefits for organisations – when implemented correctly (a significant caveat!).

Greater agility is possible; you can work with your data in new ways, improving efficiency and identifying new revenue streams; collaboration can be improved across your entire organisation.

This is all true, but it doesn’t follow that moving to a public cloud is the only way to achieve these things; nor does it guarantee that the innovation will flow once you’re up and running with a cloud service provider.

The truths, innovation has nothing to do with your IT; it’s about setting up an operational environment that gives you the psychological safety to experiment and fail.

You can benefit from all the ways of working we’ve mentioned here while running your own infrastructure, on premises… and you’d always have the option to migrate to a cloud provider later, if you really need to.

Myth 3 – “The cloud will help us grow faster”

Let’s put this one straight to bed – there’s nothing intrinsic to cloud technology that will fuel the growth of your company.

If you did experience sudden, massive growth, using a large cloud service provider could take traffic off your list of concerns. But the vast majority of companies don’t experience huge, unanticipated spikes in traffic.

In reality, moving as fast as possible generally comes at the expense of loss of control. And running headlong into the cloud with all the bells and whistles will lead to higher costs that running things via your own data centre (not least because your provider has no incentive to reduce your running costs).

Myth 4 – “The cloud is failsafe”

Another seductive thought that crosses the mind of companies contemplating the public cloud is that their services offer unlimited resources, and cannot possibly let you down.

We’d encourage more circumspection when making the strategic decisions that will affect your company for years to come. In today’s world, the unthinkable has a remarkable habit of happening – and in a crisis, if your business runs on a public cloud you’re competing for the same resource as any other customer. As huge as the compute resources of the major platforms are, they’re not limitless.

Putting the issue of capacity aside, the major providers aren’t infallible; large-scale outages aren’t unknown. And it’s important to note that the onus is on the customer to ensure the security of your system – and configuring such complex services requires time and experience.

Therefore, making the jump from data centre to public cloud does not automatically make your infrastructure failsafe. If you’re set on making that jump, you still need to carefully consider how your infrastructure is designed if you want to avoid a single point of failure.

Forewarned is forearmed

Again, we should emphasise that this article isn’t intended to bash the public cloud as an option; it can certainly be the right one.

However, we do believe that many companies can get exactly what they really need using on premise or managed private cloud on platforms such as OpenStack, while spending less money.

If you’re curious to learn more, get in touch with Architechs to discuss your needs. We’ll be happy to recommend whichever option is genuinely right for your business.

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