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The Cloud in 2017: Positive Changes, but Misconceptions Linger

/ by Guest Author: Robert McClenathan

hand pressing key laptop cloud connected worldThe cloud remains an exciting frontier that is transforming business, communication, and collaboration. General awareness of the cloud is increasing at an exponential rate, and at this point, most individuals have some experience with a cloud-based application. As the barriers to entry steadily erode, the cloud market for organizations is expanding rapidly. This newfound awareness makes it easier for customers to understand and accept cloud solutions, and creates tremendous opportunity, especially in the SMB market. However, some common misconceptions about the cloud persist.

Market Shifts

As with any (relatively) new and expanding industry, the market trends in cloud technology are evolving at a rapid pace. A few years ago, as the cloud was maturing into a viable replacement for legacy premise-based servers, networks, and client-side applications, many customers made tentative first steps toward adoption. In previous years, many early adopters opted to “dip their toe in the water” by first migrating their non-essential workloads. While their initial caution was understandable, the benefits and ROI of cloud solutions quickly became obvious to companies looking to control IT costs.

As a result, the trend in adoption has shifted in the opposite direction. Today, and especially over the last 12–24 months, a general understanding of the cloud has grown. Forward-thinking organizations are abandoning the “baby-steps” strategy and rapidly moving to replace their legacy IT systems with IaaS solutions. Small to mid-sized companies also seem to be realizing the business value of the cloud and the practical benefits of deploying IaaS solutions.

Uptime SLAs

Currently, an organization’s uptime is solely dependent upon their ability to keep their network and infrastructure running. This can be complicated by a host of other IT tasks, such as providing end-user help desk support, monitoring application performance, protecting against cyber-attacks, etc. Enterprises with large budgets and capable IT staffs may be able to bear the costs and headcount in-house, the question is: do they want to?

SMBs, on the other hand, might be wiser to allocate budget dollars and resources toward developing a relationship with a cloud provider, who can guarantee solid uptime via service level agreements. Cloud providers can achieve these uptime SLAs because it’s what their practice is dedicated to doing. In the same way that it would be impractical to build your own power plant to supply your home/office with electricity, it makes less and less sense for companies—especially for SMBs—to continue trying to manage their network and infrastructure uptime.

As you engage with a cloud service provider, it’s important that you understand and verify their uptime SLA component. Some of the larger providers may have stringent design requirements that the customer must adhere to in order to qualify (again, if you don’t know the right questions to ask or how to build it to qualify, you essentially don’t have an uptime SLA). Whether you handle this on your own or work with a knowledgeable integration partner, you will pay for this added complexity.

To complicate matters further, the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure cost calculators often don’t tell the whole story, especially if you don’t speak their language. To leverage AWS or Azure, you must know the right questions to ask and how to properly estimate usage of the cloud solutions, something which most users probably never tracked before. If you don’t know, you must pay someone who does. For the SMB customer, this additional cost often tips the scales toward using a more custom, value-added IaaS provider instead.  

Common Misconceptions

Despite having a proven record of viability and utility for business, many misconceptions about the cloud remain. While these mistaken beliefs can still be obstacles to closing a deal, most of them are easily overcome with simple facts.

  • “The Cloud Is All-or-Nothing”

In truth, most companies do not move everything to the cloud in one big, disruptive shift. Most companies evaluate the cloud and move to cloud services one application at a time. The reasons for such incremental moves are numerous: aging infrastructure concerns, new application demands, compliance efforts, staff augmentation, lack of internal skill sets, shifts to an operational cost model, unreliable power or internet connectivity, etc. Regardless of the reason, the cloud’s scalability and flexibility enable organizations to control the pace and scope of their move to the cloud.

  • “Bigger Is Better (for providers, that is)”

Whether this is true or not depends entirely on what you’re trying to achieve. If you’re looking for a per-hour testing environment with savvy system admins or developers familiar with the hyper-elastic cloud providers, AWS is probably the best option out there. If you’re a small to medium-sized business looking to transition your critical workloads to a highly available environment with a limited IT staff or in-house cloud expertise, there are many other factors to consider. Technical support is close to the top of this list, if not ultimate in importance. The big cloud providers assume you have all the capabilities you need to do it yourself. If you don’t, then a mid-level provider—like Green Cloud—may be the better option. Such providers know they are working with organizations that may not have all the pieces in place and will need higher levels of customer and technical support.

There are a lot of small cloud providers out there, too, so be sure to check their certification levels and which manufacturers they align with. For example, if a cloud provider is certified as “Cisco Powered,” you can be certain that the provider has gone through a lengthy and in-depth process of proving their capabilities to Cisco. You definitely don’t want to find yourself doing business with a cloud provider that stores confidential emails and proprietary data in a “datacenter” run out of their bathroom.

  • “Migration Is Too Complicated and Costly”

In some cases, migration can be complicated, especially when migrating a physical Windows server to AWS or a VMWare server to Azure. The complexity is understandable though, as those types of migrations transition everything all at once. If you’re migrating an on-premise VMWare workload to a VMWare cloud environment, however, there are lots of great resources out there to ensure a smooth transition, using similar or identical tools to those you use to administer your current environment. This is an important consideration when evaluating providers.

  • “The Cloud’s Recurring Costs Are More Expensive in the Long-Run”

When calculating Total Cost of Ownership, it’s not accurate to compare the lease price of hardware over 36–60 months to the monthly recurring charges of cloud solutions, which is an operating cost and not a capital expenditure. There are usually tax implications, and unless you’re in a co-location facility, have a full-time infrastructure management team, are constantly evolving with/for the requirements of the market, have your own SOC certifications, can reduce your physical footprint when an application you use goes SaaS, and can spin up resources on the fly without having to deal with distribution, shipping, and (in some cases) a bid cycle, then such a comparison is far from apples to apples. In addition, the soft costs of procuring cloud resources are vastly different from requisitioning hardware, so much so that the entire process of IT procurement is radically changing.

  • “The Cloud Is Not Secure”

Early in the cloud’s evolution, there was (a largely unwarranted) fear about shared infrastructure and the “public cloud.” While this has become a smaller concern over time, it is still an important consideration for many organizations. These days, if you’re not at least in a co-location facility, there are significant requirements for physical security in many of the regulated industries. With the evolution of next-gen firewalls, upstream DDoS scrubbing services, and outsourced security operation services, you can be more secure in a hosted environment than the level of protection your capital budget and internal staff can achieve on their own. On top of that, the provider is invested in keeping you secure because they carry tremendous liability if you’re ever breached. Hosting your most security-sensitive application(s) inside the cloud is sensical, because it would be extremely difficult to duplicate the many consumption-based security services and options in-house.

  • “It Takes Too Long to Deploy Cloud Assets”

The cloud’s speed-to-deployment is often vastly undervalued. If you need more storage or computing power for your on-premise system, you must deal with a process that typically includes contacting a reseller, dealing with distribution, and arranging for shipping and set-up. The process might take days or weeks. To add more computing power or storage in an IaaS environment, however, you can probably do it yourself. In the worst case, you can call your provider for a real-time add-on.

  • “The Cloud Will Consume Even More IT Resources”

The cloud’s ability to actually reduce resources often goes unrecognized. With so many SaaS offerings being released constantly, you may not want to commit yourself to on-premise infrastructure to run an application for the next, say, five to seven years. In that time, a more advantageous SaaS offering could become available. Cloud solutions, on the other hand, allow you to buy what you need right now, and shift to better or more cost-effective options as they become available. For example: an organization might pay to run an application that requires ten virtual servers. When their app becomes more cost-effective to purchase as a SaaS solution, they can power down the virtual servers and eliminate the infrastructure costs. If they had purchased hardware instead, then their money is gone forever.

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